Grand Finale

Grand Finale
Dr. Lawrence Mitchell, a music professor at The University of South Dakota, was just slightly winded when he finally found a moment to talk Monday at the conclusion of the concerts held in conjunction with the eighth annual USD Quad State Honor Band Festival on the campus.

If you had just conducted two short performances � each by the Honor Symphonic Band made up of local high school musicians and the USD Symphonic Band � and while still in your tuxedo, helped clear the stage of the Wayne S. Knutson Theatre of chairs and stands, you may be out of breath, too.

Mitchell has no plans to hang up his baton � yet. In a span of a few months, though, a career that has spanned more than three decades at USD will be coming to an end.

The honor band festival was Mitchell's brainchild.

"We decided eight years ago that we wanted to have an honor bands festival, so we picked a date, and we invite schools to submit names of students," he said. "We have about 35 schools that are interested in us. We're drawing a lot of small schools from this part of the state, and also from Nebraska and Iowa.

"These schools need something to do, and the kids play pretty well," Mitchell said.

All of the participating musicians received the music for Monday's concert in early January, so they would have plenty of time to rehearse in preparation for the band festival.

And since kids will kids, and not all will be as devoted as others to becoming prepared, most of Monday was devoted to intense rehearsals on the USD campus.

"We rehearse from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, and 1:15 p.m. to quarter to 5, and then do the concert," Mitchell said.

The festival is much more than a learning experience for the students, he said.

"The benefit of this is the kids get to meet other kids from other kids and see how they are playing," Mitchell said. "Some of these kids become friends for life.

"And, at the same time, we're recruiting," he said. "We want the kids here. There's a big correlation between the kids who come here at summer music camps and these honor band festivals, and music majors and people who come to play at the university."

Mitchell has left his mark on USD's music programs in a myriad of ways. In March, an annual jazz festival will be held. Each fall, the Quad State Marching Band competition is held in the DakotaDome.

You can trace the beginnings of both of these major events to Mitchell.

Mitchell first stepped on the USD campus as an undergraduate. After receiving his degree in 1961, he taught in several schools while continuing his music education, and in 1973, the USD musicdirector ask him to come work here.

He knows that, this year, the conclusion of every concert brings the end of his long teaching career at USD a bit closer.

"I'm trying to finish this semester and we'll see what comes May 15 when I'm done," Mitchell said. "I'm not thinking about that, but everything I do will be for the last time.

"I'm going to be here in Vermillion, and hopefully I can be involved with the university in some way," he said. "I can go out in schools and help recruit, and I play in trombone in the Sioux City Symphony and direct the Sioux City Band, so I fully intend to keep busy."

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