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Band takes home top title for 5A Division for second year, now heading to state on May 10

COURTESY PHOTO - Seniors in the St. Helens High School wind ensemble hold their first-place trophy, which they earned at the Northwest Oregon Conference All League competition earlier this month. This the second year in a row the band has earned a first-place title at the competition. The St. Helens High School Wind Ensemble recently earned a first-place score at the Northwest Oregon Conference League Championships, marking the second year in a row the wind ensemble has taken home the title.

During the season, the band has been working on three pieces of music for competition — "Mannin Veen" by Haydn Wood, "Sheltering the Sky" by John Mackey, and "Empire" by Julie Giroux. It's a collection of music that results in 22 minutes of playing time.

"This set is particularity difficult and it's taxing on clarinets. The piece 'Mannin Veen' is the hardest clarinet part we've really ever played and they've had to spend a lot of time out of class getting that," Band Director Noelle Freshner explained.

The band has regular practices four days a week during the school year, but it also meets outside of school on Monday evenings to practice, usually ramping up their practices before competitions. On the morning of the All League competition, the band also met at 5:15 a.m. to rehearse one last time, Freshner added.

The commitment paid off.

"There's nothing cooler then that feeling of being on stage and having a kick-butt run-through. We felt so good on stage when we're playing at Hillsboro at this championship. We knew we were dialed in," Freshner said, reflecting on the April 11th competition.

She noted that the 5A division of the NWOC League for band is highly competitive and six of the eight bands qualified for state championships this year, even though not all will be invited to attend.

The sense of competition among wind ensembles is not to out-do one another, Freshner explained, but to have ensemble musicians perform at a high level.

"It's very competitive, but yet the directors are super warm," Freshner said. "It's competitive in the way that everybody's bands are great, but not in like a, 'We're gonna beat you kind of way.' It's just high quality."

When selecting music Freshner said she usually tries to choose pieces that contrast with one another to create a well-rounded performance.

"I've always wanted to play 'Mannin Veen.' It's this incredible, just epic eleven-minute journey that's fantastic, and then those other two pieces just fit nicely with that to make a well-rounded set," Freshner said.

Not only was the band able to bring home a first-place award, but winning at All League automatically qualifies the band for a spot at the Oregon Scholastic Activities Association regional championships held May 10 at Oregon State University.

In addition to prepping for state next month, the ensemble is also working on pieces to perform at the end of the school year for its spring concert. The band is working in other pieces of music, such as work by American composer Aaron Copeland and pieces from the "Lord of the Rings" films.

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