On Feb. 13, Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig, along with Assistant Directors Major Michelle A. Rakers, 1st Lt. Ryan J. Nowlin, and guest adjudicator Dr. Emily Threinen, Director of Bands at Temple University in Philadelphia, selected flutist Mei Stone as the winner of the 2016 Concerto Competition for High School Musicians. She received a $2,500 scholarship from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and will perform her solo with the Marine Band on April 10 at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria. French horn player Camron Bryant of Phenix City, Ala., was selected as runner up and received a $500 scholarship.
Stone, a native of Waco, Texas, and senior at the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, could hardly believe her ears when Fettig announced her as the winner. “I honestly didn’t think I would win--the other finalists were unbelievably talented and I couldn’t believe I was sharing the stage with them. It was such an honor and so humbling.” But she has big plans for the scholarship: “I have had the same student-model flute since 6th grade, and this combined with another scholarship I recently received will help me finally afford a professional flute.”
Despite her humility and unassuming nature, Stone is a rising star. She is a winner of Interlochen’s Concerto Competition and received an Honorable Mention in 2016 from the National YoungArts Foundation, the exclusive nominating agency for the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, the country’s highest honor for young artists. In addition, Stone performed with the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America last summer, which included a two-week residency, lessons with New York Philharmonic principle flute Jeanne Baxtresser, a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York, and a seven-city concert tour of China.
She is also scheduled to perform on NPR’s “From the Top” on March 4, 2016, a radio program that features performances by young artists with inspiring stories and immense talent. Her schedule is so full she almost wasn’t able to participate in the Marine Band Concerto Competition. “I honestly couldn't believe I had been chosen as a finalist! When I found out only seven had been selected, I was in shock. I actually wasn’t sure if I would be able to attend the finals because I was originally scheduled to have a college audition on the day of the performance, but I managed to get it changed.”
Stone first heard about the Marine Band’s Concerto Competition last year from one of her classmates, Taiga Ultan, who was a finalist in the 2015 Concerto Competition. But she decided to apply because her friend, and fellow flute finalist Alex Lombo, told her he was applying. “I knew Alex from our summer together in the National Youth Orchestra of the USA,” she said. “Alex and I are really close—we have extremely different playing styles but we work so well together and enjoy playing with and for each other. Getting to see him was one of the best parts of the trip here because I hadn’t seen him since summer. I also met the other finalists before the performance, and they were all so friendly and easy to talk to, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet them.”
Of the two flute solos Stone had to choose from, she selected Cécile Chaminade’s Concertino, Opus 107 because it is a piece she had recently performed so she was very familiar with and fond of it. “The Chaminade has lots of very fast runs that require fluidity and relaxed fingers, so I spent a lot of time doing slow practice and making sure my fingers were efficient. I had to juggle practicing repertoire for college auditions along with this, so it was pretty hard to manage my time, but I again did a lot of slow practice, listened to many recordings, and tried to make every time I played it unique. My grandfather was in both the Navy and Marines as a hospital corpsman. My older sister is actually hoping to be a member of one of the armed services bands—she plays trumpet and currently attends Texas Christian University. While I was performing, I was trying to play for them since I know how important this would be to both of them.”
With the relief of winning the competition comes the new challenge of preparing to perform with the Marine Band on April 10, while also auditioning for college. “As of today, I am just over halfway done with auditions! After that, I’ll be devoting a lot of time to getting comfortable performing in front of a large audience. Soloing with a large ensemble is very different to playing with a piano accompanist, so I will need to work on being more clear with my musical objectives so I can communicate that with the conductor, the ensemble, and ultimately the audience.”