Free State musician finds himself on national stage in elite company
photo by: Contributed by Keith Popiel
Along with some of the best young musicians in the country, trumpeter Keith Popiel found himself performing on a historic stage in the nation’s capital earlier this month.
Keith, an incoming senior at Free State High School, was selected to the 2022 National Youth Wind Ensemble, a distinguished band consisting of the top selected wind, brass and percussion performers between ages 16 and 19.
“I wasn’t quite sure I was going to make it,” Keith said. “Literally any student in the United States could try out and make this group.”
As part of the application process, students had to submit a music resume, an essay and two videos of contrasting solo excerpts.
“Events like these showcase the opportunities that young people can achieve through being involved in music,” National Youth Wind Ensemble and Global Initiative for Talented Students founder Edward Lopez told the Journal-World. “It allows them to get the answers they seek if there is any doubt about whether to stay involved or not.”
The Global Initiative for Talented Students (G.I.F.T.S.) is a nonprofit that works to fund students’ involvement in the National Youth Wind Ensemble through donations and grants.
Keith found out he made it into the program in February as he got ready to go on stage for a performance at Prairie Winds, a music camp at the University of Kansas.
“It was a little surprise right before the [Prairie Winds] concert,” Keith said. “That concert, specifically, was one of the most memorable and enjoyable concerts I’ve had just because that stress and the burden I felt was lifted.”
photo by: Contributed by Keith Popiel
Keith was one of 40 musicians and one of five trumpeters chosen. For six days, they were immersed in music and military history in Washington, D.C.
Keith and the other musicians were able to observe a rehearsal of the President’s Own, the premier band of the United States Marine Corps.
“We got to tour the rehearsal hall, the library and their archives like original compositions from John Philip Sousa,” Keith said. “Just super rare things that the public has limited access to.”
The students chosen for the National Youth Wind Ensemble also attended the President’s Own concert. The students ended their week by playing at the Warner Theatre in D.C. on June 18.
“I’ve gone from playing along to these videos that they’ve recorded to being able to listen to them live,” Keith said. “It was just a little surreal getting to talk to and interact with these professional musicians.”
Every day leading up to their performance, students rehearsed for three hours a day and were led by guest conductors of prestigious military bands, including Kevin L. Sedatole, the director of bands at Michigan State University, and Col. Jason Fettig, the current director of the President’s Own.
At the end of the week, the National Youth Wind Ensemble performed in front of an audience of around 500 people. Keith was second chair in the trumpet section and had a solo.
“I am just thrilled that Keith was able to make music with some of the top high school players in the country,” Keith’s father, Paul, said. “Opportunities like this can have a profound impact on young people both musically and personally. I’m so grateful Keith was a part of this.”
Leading up to the performance, Keith said he was not nervous; in fact, he was excited.
“I got to enjoy the space; it’s such a historic hall that we played at,” Keith said. “I really embraced the moment.”
Although he started playing in the fifth grade, Keith has been around music his whole life. His dad is the director of bands at the University of Kansas.
“My dad gave me a trumpet growing up; he helped me with trumpet lessons and put me in the hands of great musicians to teach me,” Keith said.
Along with his family, Keith said, the assistant band director at Free State High School, Melissa Smith, encouraged him through the audition process.
Smith said she was proud of Keith’s accomplishment and glad that he got the experience.
Keith has played in the All State Kansas band all three years of his high school career. He said auditioning for that built his confidence for performances and other auditions.
“Before this trip, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to teach or play professionally in a group like this,” Keith said. “This trip pretty much sealed the deal for me. I definitely won’t be putting the trumpet down anytime soon.”
Keith has hopes to someday be a part of a musical group like the Marine Corps Band.