Student tapped as finalist for Air Force band seat

Katie McKeirnan is one of four finalists vying for the opportunity to play with the U.S. Air Force Band. The De Soto High School sophomore will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to audition for the seat.

Katie McKeirnan said the voice of the clarinet explains her six-year love affair with the instrument.

“I just love the sound,” she said. “It’s so versatile. You can go so low, but then you can go so high.

“It imitates the human voice so well. A lot of clarinet pieces are so operatic. It’s telling a story, almost like it could speak.”

The clarinet apparently speaks very well for Katie. The De Soto High School sophomore was selected as one of four high school musicians to compete for an opportunity to play an engagement with the U.S. Air Force Band.

Katie said De Soto High School band instructor Dan Freeman suggested she enter the competition.

“I looked at the music and said, ‘This looks doable,'” she said.

Freeman said Katie made the finals through her practice and hard work.

“That she’s a finalist in a national competition is pretty impressive,” Freeman said. “That she’s the youngest makes it all the more impressive. I knew she was capable. It wasn’t a surprise when we learned she was a finalist; it was ‘It is happening.'”

The competition was open to high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. Katie was the only sophomore selected and will compete against one junior and two seniors.

Katie was comfortable with the music selection because it was Carl Maria von Weber’s “Concertino.” She successfully auditioned her freshman year for the John Philip Sousa Honors Band with the same work by the 19th century composer.

Katie said her private instructor, Kansas University professor Stephanie Zelnick, helped her with the piece. Zelnick also arranged for Katie to make a CD at a KU recital hall with an accompanist that served as her entry for the competition.

With her selection as a finalist, Katie will travel Tuesday through Friday with her parents, Bill and Linda McKeirnan, to Washington, D.C., to audition for the place in the band. If she wins, she’ll get a one-time performance with the Air Force Band in February, she said.

Katie, who plays in the school’s marching band, jazz band and pep band and in the orchestra for the fall musical, said pursuing a musical career was “definitely a possibility.”

The competition would serve her well if she does seek a career in music, Freeman said.

“This is great résumé builder,” he said. “It’s a great résumé builder for a lot of things.”