Performing tonight in a free concert at Faith Chapel in Billings, nearly 140 high school choir and band students from across the region are ready to show their stuff.

The teens have been on the Rocky Mountain College campus since Thursday morning, where they have been learning and rehearsing their music alongside their college counterparts, trying to get 10 pieces performance-worthy for tonight’s show.

“It’s challenging,” said Austin Green, a trombonist and junior from Central High.

But that’s part of what makes it fun, he said. Students who attend the college’s Invitational Honors Concert retreat must apply and have a recommendation from their music teacher to participate. As a part of an elite group, the students are playing with other musicians who are serious about music.

“The level of playing is higher,” said Alex Lozada, Green’s classmate and a percussionist.

In particular, for students who play instruments, the experience of coming to a college and playing with a full band can be transformative.

“A lot of the kids are from smaller districts, smaller schools,” said Tony Hammond, Rocky Mountain College’s band director. “They don’t have a lot of large-band experience.”

The chance to come together and play in a big group that includes college students has an immediate and positive impact on the high school students, he said.

“You’re musicianship is going to be elevated on impact,” said Steven Hart, the college choir director.

The students notice.

Laurelee Nuttall, an alto and junior from Corvallis High School in the Bitterroot Valley, was taken aback when she first got her music and saw its difficulty.

“I was freaking out,” she said.

However, the degree of difficulty has a payoff, the students said.

When Sydney Emett, Nuttall’s classmate and fellow alto, first heard the full choir sing through their numbers, “it really gave me chills.”

Amanda Jessop, a soprano and Corvallis senior, agreed.

“It’s really — it was just hair-raising,” she said.

The college’s goal is to give students exposure to music that normally wouldn’t be available in their individual schools and give them the chance to interact with teenagers like themselves.

“Sometime during the two days here they will truly connect with another human being,” Hart said.

Also, spending two days on the Rocky Mountain College campus doesn’t hurt recruitment, Hammond said.

“It’s an experience to get on campus,” he said.

The students so far seem to be enjoying their time. Most have said they’re not nervous about tonight’s concert. The payoff has already come in the skills they’ve developed. Still, they said, it will be good to perform for a real audience.

“It’s been really fun,” said Haydn Ryan, a trombonist and junior from Central High. “The music’s been really fun to play.”

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or at 406-657-1231.

What: Rocky Mountain College Invitational Honors Concert

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Faith Chapel, 517 Shiloh Road, Billings

Tickets: Entrance to the concert is free

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