Still going strong after more than 50 years, the Peoria Park District Youth Music Festival, one of the longest-running festivals in the area, is sure to deliver another great evening featuring talented local kids.

The first Youth Music Festival took place in 1947 as a showcase for the students who participated in the Park District’s summer band and orchestra classes, said Park District Fine Arts Coordinator Linda Huff. “The music program is offered as an extension of District 150’s school year music program so students can continue to pursue their music education in a recreational manner.”

Over the years, Huff said the Youth Music Festival has expanded to include the show chorus, Great Expectations 2003. They’ve also added a fine arts exhibit featuring the work of students enrolled in the fine arts camp. The festival is conducted by Peoria Park District Band Director Peggy Bonner, along with Orchestra Director Rebecca Thompson, both of whom are District 150 music teachers.

Huff said the Youth Music Festival theme is different each year. “This year’s theme is ‘Join the Parade,’ and will feature some great marches and patriotic music. Jazz, show tunes, pop, and classical music are also included in the program. Past program themes included ‘America’s Music—Jazz’ and ‘Summer Jam.’”

The music program behind the festival includes four levels of classes—beginner to advanced—offered by the Park District to band and orchestra students. “In addition, we have our Senior Summer Band, which is comprised of area high school students. Each level of band and orchestra performs several songs at the festival; the Jazz Band and Senior Summer Band are our featured performers,” said Huff.

To prepare for the festival, students enrolled in music classes meet three days a week for an hour per day, she said. “Mondays, percussion and violins have their classes; Tuesdays, it’s woodwinds and violas; and Wednesdays, brass and cellos meet. All band students meet on Thursdays and Fridays for beginner, intermediate, and advanced band rehearsals. The same schedule applies to the orchestra students.”

Huff said students from ages seven to 18 may enroll in the programs—and those with no experience to students with more than three years’ experience are welcome. “The Senior Summer Band is made up of area high school students who audition for Peggy Bonner. They perform throughout the summer at Brown Bag-It, West Peoria Fourth of July Parade, as guest performers with the Municipal Band, and at the Illinois State Fair. The Jazz Band is comprised of advanced students in the ‘Jam Session’ class. They also perform along with the Senior Summer Band. The advanced orchestra students attend the ‘Studio Session’ class and give performances with the other two bands.”

The vocal portion of the Youth Music Festival, Great Expectations 2003, also has a busy schedule. “That chorus, which is directed by Kim Holdham and includes youth ages 12 to 18, rehearses several evenings per week and on Saturdays to learn choreography and their program of music, which includes pop, jazz, spiritual, and patriotic music. The chorus performs throughout the community from June through August and also performs at the Illinois State Fair,” Huff said.

Keeping up skills and getting a head start on the next school year—not to mention the chance to take part in the Youth Music Festival—are common reasons students join the Park District’s summer programs, but there are other benefits, as well. “Many experienced students use it as an opportunity to try playing a new or different instrument,” she said. “We’re able to offer very affordable instrument rental with our program and festival sponsor, Samuel Music.”

Making music in a low-stress environment is also attractive to students. “We try to keep the students in educational classes in a relaxed atmosphere where they’re encouraged to interact with both their teacher and the other band or orchestra members. We also provide them with opportunities to travel and perform together during the summer,” Huff said.

The Youth Music Festival takes place at 6:30 p.m., July 25, at the Glen Oak Park Amphitheater. Admission is $3 for adults; students with ID are free.

For more information, call 688-3667, ext. 266. AA!