Ensemble also earned first in sight-reading, helping to break a tie during Dec. 1 competition

PHOTO COURTESY OF KAREN HIMES - The St. Helens High School Jazz band took home a first-place title at the SkyView Jazz Festival on Saturday, Dec. 1. The competition was the first of the season for the ensemble. At the start of the fall competition season, the St. Helens High School jazz band is already earning high accolades.

Last weekend, the jazz band took home a first-place award after competing against six other bands at the SkyView Jazz Festival on Saturday, Dec. 1.

Last Saturday's competition was the first of the 2018-19 season, and performing on stage for the first time with any given ensemble is always a good experience, said Abby Jennings, a senior upright bass player.

"This was the first time performing on a stage with this ensemble, Marx said. "Sometimes nerves can come out so it was good to work through that."

After performing and being judged on their stage performance, the 24-person ensemble earned a sufficient score for first place, but the band was tied with an intermediate band from Battleground, Washington, director Noelle Freshner said.

However, when the St. Helens ensemble members performed in the sight-reading portion of the competition, they earned a first-place title, which pushed the overall rankings in favor of St. Helens. In 2017, the St. Helens band also took first place during sight reading at the same competition.

"I'm proud of the sight reading score. It shows that all of the work we've been doing since well, really ever since they joined band, you know, back in sixth grade, that the way we prepare music and sight read music, it's working. They're doing a great job," Freshner said.

Students in the band were excited to earn the first-place title and were also keen to see the work they put into sight reading during classroom rehearsals come to fruition.

"We really do a lot of work with sight reading so it was cool to see that pay off," Marx said.

Senior and alto saxophone player AJ Jennings said the band was feeling positive coming off the performance and learned a lot from the experience that will help throughout the winter and spring season.

"We felt really good after our performance," Jennings said. "Our goal wasn't to win, but to perform as well as a band as we could."

The band was excited to celebrate the accomplishment, but with another competition in Hillsboro scheduled to take place on Dec. 6, the students got right back to work, fine-tuning their music.

Freshner said the students were able to take some of the feedback they received from the judges last weekend and make some tweaks, like having certain instruments play out or focusing on intonation, to enhance their overall musicality.

"You try to adapt as much as you can without derailing what we've already done," Freshner said.

As the season continues, students are looking forward to growing as performers and helping prepare those in lower grades to sustain the ensemble when the senior class graduates.

"I'm excited to keep working together so we can grow, especially with the rhythm section," Marx said.

For many students, the competitions are not all about winning. The goal is to play well musically and perform well as an ensemble and learn from the experiences, Marx and Jennings explained.

"I'm excited to improve on an individual basis and as a band. Of course it would be cool to take home trophies, but that's not the goal," Jennings said.

The band will also take part in the West Salem Jazz Festival in February and will also set their sights on the OMEA District 3 Jazz and Pop Festival and the State Jazz Festival in May, should it qualify.

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