MHS Jazz Band ends year on upbeat note
Saying it was a banner school year for the Milwaukie High School Jazz Band is a bit of an understatement: The band won four major awards at three high-level competitions.
"Four out of four rarely happens. We were lucky and we worked hard, like we always do," said Greg Vanwinkle, MHS band instructor.
"We have never won the sweepstakes at CCC before, [but this year] the stars aligned," he added.
The string of awards began last December, when the jazz band won first place in the Northwest Oregon Conference League, beating out seven other schools.
Then things really took off in March, when the jazz band not only won first place in its category at the Clackamas Community College High School Jazz Festival but also was named the sweepstakes winner.
"There were 12 schools in our category, and then we also won sweepstakes for best performance across all 30 schools in the 5A and 6A divisions," Vanwinkle said.
In addition, all MHS soloists and the entire rhythm section received individual recognition.
May was a big month for the band as well, as they took first place at the Mt. Hood Community College High School Jazz Festival, and were named the state champions in the 5A State Championship Jazz Competition.
For the competitions this year, the jazz band concentrated on six major pieces, including a couple of swing tunes, a bossa nova piece and some modern jazz and Latin music, Vanwinkle said.
Then in March, the MHS jazz band went to Disneyland, where they worked with professionals who introduced them to the scores of famous animated movies.
The band would get a piece of music from the film, practice it and then record it.
"Then they would show us the excerpt of the film with us playing the music; we did five or six of those in 90 minutes," Vanwinkle said.
The jazz band also put on a concert at California Adventure
Looking back on the school year, Vanwinkle said he is most proud of the fact that his students are in the band for the love of music, not just to win competitions.
"We've had this conversation; it's about the quality of the music," he said.
"It's a double-edged sword having competitions. I'm here to teach them to appreciate music and to be lifelong learners," Vanwinkle said.
Three jazz band students, who are now 2018 graduates of MHS, affirmed what Vanwinkle had to say about competitions.
Tyrus Friedstrom, a drummer, said he has improved dramatically as a musician this year, but noted that his improvement is more of a reflection of his effort and practice.
"I don't care if we win [contests] or not; that has never been my motivation," he said. "Competitions are like a center point; they are another incentive to keep playing."
He added that this kind of event also improves the interactions among all the members in the band and are opportunities to meet others with similar interests.
Friedstrom plans to attend Clackamas Community College for two years and will audition for the CCC jazz band.
Emily Gage, who plays the upright bass and electric bass guitar, agreed that contests improve communication with others in the band. This year she learned the importance of complementing the people playing in the band and responding to notes and rhythms.
"Competitions are also good motivators," Gage added.
She will attend Brigham Young University in Idaho this fall and plans to earn a music education degree.
For Alex Becerril, a tenor sax player, the experiences of this year have made him more aware of what it feels like to play jazz.
"Now I understand why this composer did this or why a chord progression is the way it is," he said.
What he likes best about competitions is that he gets to hear other bands play and meet people who are passionate about music.
Becerril also plans to attend CCC and audition for the school's jazz band.
"I want to pursue music, no matter how hard it gets. Jazz is definitely part of my life," he said, adding that ultimately he wants to teach jazz.
He added, "A teacher like Mr. Vanwinkle makes me want to do this."