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'Arts education is important'

Ryan Stahle is excited about this year's Palace City Jazz Festival.

Its not just that the fifth-annual event, Tuesday at the Sherman Center on Dakota Wesleyan University's Campus, is the only high-school sponsored jazz festival in South Dakota.

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And it's not just that it provides the Mitchell High School jazz band, and other participating schools, a chance to perform for the community. Stahle said one of the reasons he's proud of the festival is that it gives area schools a chance to work closely with half a dozen musical professionals from around the region, including Sioux Falls, South Dakota State University and even an MHS alumnus.

The festival will start at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, and features six professional musicians as the clinicians. Stahle said unlike most of South Dakota's jazz festivals, typically run by colleges, it is a non-competitive day that focuses more on education.

"You get a lot more time with the clinicians," the MHS director of bands said. "It's more just about what can we do better."

Eight schools and 14 bands will work with the six clinicians throughout the day. The festival will conclude with a concert at 7 p.m. in the Sherman Center. Tickets are $5 for adults or $2 for students, and can be purchased in advance from County Fair or at the door.

Stahle said the concert will feature the MHS jazz band, the six clinicians, as well as high school jazz bands from Sioux Falls Roosevelt, Brookings and Sioux City North.

"People will get a chance to hear some really good jazz programs from across the state," Stahle said.

William Flynn, who graduated from MHS in 2006 and is one of those clinicians, said things have come full circle as he prepares to work with the jazz band he once played in.

"It's great; it's kind of surreal," he said. "It will be a great opportunity to work with the band that I used to be a part of."

Now a visiting instructor of jazz guitar at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kan., Flynn said he first started playing guitar when he was about 10. He later developed an interest in jazz, through Stahle.

"The thing that drew me to jazz initially, and still draws me to it more than any other kind of music, is the improvisation," Flynn said. "It's the most defining characteristic of the music, and it's the element of the music that I think is the most fertile for life-long study."

For Stahle, it's exciting to have one of his former students back, now at his side helping to spread a love of music and the arts.

"It's kind of a proud papa moment, so to speak," Stahle said.