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    Red Lodge Music Festival: A 'last hurrah' for recent Montana graduates

    By Marcus Cocova,


    Musicians of all ages and skill levels gathered for the annual nine-day Red Lodge Music Festival, which started on Saturday.

    “You’re not being guided around everywhere," said Andrew Philips, a trumpet player who graduated from high school this year. "It’s like … Red Lodge is your oyster for this week.”

    Hundreds of music students from grades seven through this year's high school graduates are taught by music professionals in various clinics, rehearsals, and educational sessions.

    "They have to learn music that might be harder than they typically perform," said Christopher Patton, a music teacher at Elder Grove School.

    For many of the teens in attendance, the festival provides one of the first experiences where they are allowed to explore a city independently

    “You have the freedom to, like, go buy yourself lunch or dinner – like, a lot of kids have never done that before," said Cooper Koffler, a tuba player who graduated from high school this year.

    Students said being offered the responsibility of freedom teaches most to manage their time, with some like Philips and Koffler making their own meals to save time and spend more time with their friends.

    "The enjoyment that you get out of this camp is what you bring to the table," said Zachary Broveak, a saxophone player who graduated from high school this year.

    The group of musicians and friends got together on Wednesday for moments of practice during their down time and a chicken Caesar salad dinner put together by Koffler, who learned to cook throughout his childhood in 4H.

    “We’re kind of splitting up, and this is like our last hurrah," said Philips.

    The musicians who graduated this year explained that this year's festival represents the end of their childhood.

    "We’re all going to different corners of the state or (some) are going out of state, and I just think it’s important to – (build) a brotherhood of a friendship," said TJ Hogan, a bass player who graduated this year. "Just 'cause we don’t know when the next time all six of us will be in the same spot again.”

    The festival will continue through Sunday with weekend student performances of the piece they have learned.

    “This is my last chance as a kid, to be a kid," said Koffler.

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