A few days before the annual Kansas Music Educators Association conference in Wichita, the De Soto High School symphonic band was at school for hours on a Friday that all the other De Soto students had off. The band was rehearsing a demanding playlist for their starring role at the conference.
"This group is really, really good," says senior Katie McKeirnan, the principle clarinetist in the band. The band has made great strides in the past four years with dedicated musicians like Katie leading the charge.
"She's got an amazing amount of talent," says Daniel Freeman, De Soto High School Director of Bands. "But what makes her a dream student is what she does with that talent. She's incredibly hard-working. Devoted. She does all the little things we try to get all the kids to do and she does them without us asking."
Not only is Katie the top musician on this impressive symphonic band, the senior is getting acclaim as one of the finest high school musicians in the nation.
"She's made the national finals in several national competitions," says Freeman. "To even make those national level competitions, you have to be one of the best there is."
Some of Katie's most notable contest performances this school year include runner-up in the U.S. Air Force Band Young Artist Competition, a top five finish in the Music Teachers National Association Senior Woodwind Competition and winning the Midwest Clarifest at the University of Nebraska. Katie gets rave reviews locally and regionally, as well. The University of Kansas professor who teaches her in private lessons calls Katie truly exceptional. She's principle clarinetist for the Kansas City Youth Symphony. And she's earned that honor twice in the Kansas All-State High School Orchestra.
"It makes me want to get better and continue to get better," says Katie of the honors she's received.
"Motivation for you to do more?" asks a visiting reporter.
"Yeah," replies Katie.
"No plateaus for you," says the reporter.
"Plateaus are bad," replies Katie with a laugh. Katie got it early, understood what it would take to become a really good musician. She's challenged herself in endless hours of practices and performances ever since she graduated from the flutophone and recorder to clarinet in grade school.
"I don't want to be just your good high school band kid," says Katie. "I want to be competitive with people that are older than me. And being as good as they are and not just as good as all my peers."
And that has paid off.
"This is what I spend my time doing," says Katie. "This is what I love to do. It's what I want to continue doing for the rest of my life."
Katie's dream is to become a professional symphony orchestra musician and university music instructor. Her admirers say with the work ethic and talent Katie has, she is certain to make it.
"It's a tough gig getting a job as a professional musician," admits Katie. "A ton, a ton of competition. So to win a job you are going to have to be the best of the best of the best."
Katie is applying to several of America's most prestigious music universities. One of her priorities -- a school where she can focus on trying to become a Fulbright Scholar so she can study music abroad -- just like the professor at KU who teaches her private lessons and calls Katie "exceptional."
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