For most college campuses, the weekend after graduation is a lonely time. Students have gone home for the summer, as have many of the faculty and staff. However, at Pacific University the weekend after graduation has the campus buzzing with activity. About 450 high school students will swarm the campus, all for one reason: the Music in May program.
Currently preparing for its 65th year of operation, Music in May is the longest running music program of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. High school students from all over Oregon and Washington and even a few from Idaho and northern California flock to Pacific to participate in this three-day event. The program encompasses instruction in band, orchestra and choir.
The Music in May program brings in guest conductors every year to work with the students, one for each of the disciplines aforementioned. After many years of running the program, Pacific’s own Michael Burch-Pesses has assembled a hefty list of conductors who either have or yearn to participate in Music in May. Burch-Pesses said he values those who are not only great conductors, but great instructors as well.
From that Thursday, May 24 to Saturday, May 26, the students stay in Pacific’s dorm rooms, whose usual residents have cleared out after the school year has come to a close. They will also eat the campus food and get a taste of Pacific while doing so. On the first evening of the event is an open mic night where any of the students can come perform: the second evening offers the choices of going to a dance or watching a movie.
However, the main activities definitely revolve around music. The students spend about 12 to 13 hours working as a group on music which they received earlier in the year. The conductors give them advice to help to improve their skill and technique and the high caliber of the students involved also keeps them wanting to develop their talent. It all culminates on Saturday night, when the three sections each present a program of no more than 25 minutes worth of music, which they have been practicing intensely in the past few days.
Burch-Pesses doesn’t do it alone, though. He considers himself grateful to have the administrative assistant for Music in May Santha Zaik by his side. After all, it is a lot of work putting an event like this together. High school instructors are asked to recommend their students to try out and they must also send the students their music in advance so they can practice on their own. When counting all the other paperwork that needs taking care of, it can get overwhelming said Burch-Pesses.
Additionally, there are about 20 Pacific students who help out with the festivities. They serve in a mentor capacity, having had a lot of previous experience with music at Pacific.