Sterling College offers Online Music Festival for Kansas students

Sterling College Online Music Festival
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Sterling College has announced the Sterling College Online Music Festival, which will allow middle school and high school students to display their musical abilities amongst their peers. The Festival will run from April 6 to April 25 and is open to all Kansas junior high and senior high school students. 

“With the advance of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the resulting closure of Kansas schools, there lay a large void for students across the state with no hope of showcasing their talents. Now music students have this opportunity thanks to the Sterling College Online Music Festival,” said Dr. Ken Brown, vice president for academic affairs. 

The brainchild of Larry Brownlee, Sterling College instrumental music director and newly named to the Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame, the Online Music Festival will allow students the chance to perform their instrumental or vocal solos for a judge to receive a rating. Brownlee is in his first year as full-time music director at Sterling College, his alma mater, after a 39-year career as a public school band director, 34 years of it at Sterling High School.

“This is an unprecedented time we are in now. Obviously, many students are missing out on spring activities like regional and state music festivals. I just thought that this is something we can do to provide an opportunity to perform and stay engaged. This is a chance to keep students motivated and working,” said Brownlee. 

Brownlee’s motivation is not just professional; it is personal as well. His three children are all high school musicians preparing solos for contest season and now have nowhere to perform them. Between the three of them there are six solos being prepared. 

He has had many high school students indicate an interest in the online festival. Marion Roberts, retired band director in the Overland Park area said, “Wow! What a great opportunity for the kids. All the preparation with great commentary and suggestions. You have created a wonderful monster. But what a great collegial project!”

Interested music students may register for the Sterling College Online Music Festival beginning Monday, April 6, by going to the Sterling College website

During the “Festival,” students will submit a digital recording of their solos to Brownlee who will then send them on to the various adjudicators he has lined up from across the state. Those adjudicators write critiques and give each student a rating 1 – 5 (“Superior” to “Poor”). Students with a 1 (“Superior”) rating will receive a medal. All participants will receive their critique and a certificate for their participation. 

Brownlee has solicited fellow music educators across the state to adjudicate the festival. He has one director to judge the flutes, another for trumpets, one for percussion, etc. He plans to offer the festival for vocal music solos as well with judges for sopranos, tenors, altos and basses.

Fellow Sterling College music faculty members Tiffiney Harms, assistant professor of music, will adjudicate piano solos and Marisa Callan, assistant professor of music, will help adjudicate vocal solos. He has also had faculty from other colleges and universities agree to help. 

“The only thing we cannot do in this ‘virtual’ world is ensembles. With social distancing in place we are not able to get groups together to practice or perform. So it is solos only for the online festival – but that will be big enough,” said Brownlee.

Natalie Schweizer, a junior at Sterling High School, is planning to enter her French horn and vocal solos in the festival.

“I am very excited to have the opportunity to participate! Music performance is something I dearly love to do, whether for school, church, or my family. Music festival is always one event that I look forward to with much anticipation and joy. It's busy with so many different performances in ensembles and solos, but it's so much fun to be able to participate! Thanks to Mr. Brownlee and Sterling College, I'll have the chance to do what I love to do, even if it is virtual,” said Schweizer.

Travis Johnson is the president of the Kansas Bandmasters Association. 

“Every music student in Kansas had been preparing for solo and ensemble festivals since January. Without this opportunity, most students would never have performed those pieces. Students spend hours taking lessons, practicing at home and in rehearsals with their directors. This will give our students a reason to keep playing and the opportunity to finish the work they have started,” said Johnson.

Alex Underwood is director of the Ad Astra Music Festival and Sterling College music alum.

“I think we have to be creative in times like this and also realize that there is no perfect solution. Nothing is going to replace live performances. However, I think this is a great way for our students who are disappointed they did not get a contest experience this year. Why not offer this option to students who can offer a virtual performance of their contest music and get a little feedback. I think it is wonderful for all of us to have a reason to make music right now, even if it’s in the confines of our homes,” said Underwood.

There is no cost to the student to enter the online music festival. 

“I don’t want cost to be a barrier. But I want to send every student who gets a 1 (Superior) rating an engraved medal. I figure that will cost about $4 per medal to have them engraved and mailed to the students,” said Brownlee. 

Brownlee has started a GoFundMe online effort to raise money for the medals. Individuals interested in helping with the project may do so by visiting 

Information is also on the Sterling College website. Additionally, anyone wishing to volunteer to help with the Sterling College Online Music Festival may contact Brownlee through email at

Sterling College is a Christ-centered, four-year college located in Sterling, Kansas, with a mission to develop creative and thoughtful leaders who understand a maturing Christian faith. For more information, visit