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In its first year at the state competition, NHMS's Jazz Band pulls the shocker with 4A title

In its first year going to the state competition, the North Marion High School Jazz Band has taken home first place in the 4A division.

Oregon Music Education Association awarded the prize at the May 19 competition at Mount Hood Community College.

While band teacher Kaden Christensen, who's only in his second year at the helm of the music department at the high school, said this is only the second year there has even been a state jazz competition, it's still a big accomplishment for his 20 students in the group.

At the league festival in February, the band placed second behind Philomath High School, but at the state competition North Marion topped Philomath by 10 points.

"Philomath came and played the same set they did in February, but we switched it up a bit," Christensen explained.

The band performed a 30-minute set of Latin, swing, ballad and funk music, featuring strong performers. The competition's three judges scored each of the five participating 4A bands on a scale of 100 points, with the criteria basically being quality of sound, Christensen said.

"What I think it came down to was we start rehearsing at 7 in the morning," he said. "These kids are devoted. With them showing up, we were able to put together a good set that featured some rhythm players and seniors who helped us stand out."

Many students and even staff members credit Christensen for introducing a new era of enthusiasm for the music program in the district.

"He doubled the enrollment in music programs since he arrived," Superintendent Ginger Redlinger said, adding that through Christensen's connections at University of Oregon, where he attended, he's been able to bring in musicians to mentor students. "This guy really inspires kids!"

Christensen doesn't want to take credit, though.

"I'm a new teacher so I guess I have that burn for the program," he said. "But I'm just there to facilitate beautiful music."

Christensen said part of his passion might stem from his own experiences at North Marion, where he attended from grades 3-12.

"Part of me wants to bring North Marion to be at its best because I grew up here," he admitted. "It also helped that the first day I walked in here, I had support from the teachers and administration because they knew me."

And while he's inspiring students now, Christensen himself knew he wanted to become a music teacher thanks to efforts of then-middle school music teacher Roger Wilhite.

"I came to the idea myself, but when I told him in seventh grade, he gave me opportunities to teach," he said. "The same happened with David Church in high school."

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