The eighth-grade band at Athey Creek Middle School was the only middle school concert band selected to perform at the Oregon Music Education Association (OMEA) conference this January.
Aside from the performance the weekend of Jan. 12, three eighth-graders were selected for the Middle School All-State Band that performed directly after the Athey Creek performance at the OMEA conference, and one student won the middle school division for a statewide composition contest.
"This is a huge deal," said Laura Arthur, Athey Creek's band director. "I go to the conference every year and enjoy other people's performance, never thinking I would have a group good enough to play. This is such an incredibly special group of kids. They love each other, they love band (and) they're so supportive. I try to think of a weak link, a weak personality, a weak player and there just isn't (one)."
Arthur sent in a recording to conference organizers over the summer of the previous eighth-grade band, and the school was selected.
Prior to the conference, eighth-grader Matt Greyerbiehl — who plays the tuba — was excited to perform for other band directors and see the West Linn High School symphonic band play because he would like to attend WLHS next year and play in the marching band.
Athey Creek's band of 74 students performed four songs: a slow march, a traditional folk song, a Hungarian-style dance and a piece that told the story of a sunken submarine and seven sailors who were able to escape it.
"I noticed a lot of nerves at the beginning, but once we got going with the performance, their hard work and preparation came through," Arthur said.
The performance at the Hult Center in Eugene was presented as a concert hour and was open to anybody attending the conference — choir teachers, band directors, orchestra teachers and more.
"There's three groups of people in the audience. There's the young teachers who are there to see what they can aspire to, the old crotchety band directors who are like, 'Oh, they'll never be good enough,' but we're not playing for them," Arthur said in an interview before the performance. "We're playing for the third group, which is all of my band director colleagues who are interested in quality music and seeing what kids can do."
Eighth-graders Logan Hines — who plays the baritone — Sarah Talbert and Zachary Villagomez — who play the trumpet — were the students selected for the all-state band that is made up of students from every participating middle school in the state.
"They get to hear a different voice of a music teacher. They get tired of listening to me," said Arthur, adding that they had a day and a half to learn the music and then performed directly after the Athey Creek band performance. "The opportunity to meet other band kids who are the best band kids in their school are sent to this conference together so it's an amazing opportunity."
And all three students agree that it was a huge honor.
"It's really cool I get to be a part of something this big and just kind of play with other people across the state," said Villagomez before the event. He thought it would be really cool for everyone with a strong passion for their instrument to play together. "I really want to see what the experience is like playing in a big band like this because I have never been in one this big. Also, the level everyone is playing at is matched. In our band class everyone is kind of at their own level."
As far as OMEA's composition contest, it was the first year they had this available.
Eighth-grader Koharu Sakiyama, who has had experience playing the violin for several years and the clarinet since sixth grade, decided to compose a string quartet — an ensemble with violins, a viola and a cello. She created the four parts on a computer software program and named her piece "Little Bird." She won the middle school level statewide.
"I'm really proud of myself because that took a while," said Koharu, noting that it took her a month and a half to finish her original piece.
And Arthur is nothing shy of proud as well.
"She is one of the most talented musicians I've ever had, like the level she's composing (at) is just so beyond her years," Arthur said. "These are just really great kids and they all deserve everything. It's just such a huge honor and an incredible experience for them. This has been a chance for us to really dig in musically and it's pushed me as a teacher, pushed them to a different musical level (and) it's been so fun to work together with them."
Arthur added that the performance was an amazing experience for her personally as well.
"I was so proud to show off the students hard work to people I respect so much," she said. "The performance was a culmination of years of hard work to build the program to our current level and I couldn't have been happier with how it turned out."