It’s becoming an annual tradition for the GW Graham music department.
Hop on a bus, compete in the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, bring home the trophies.
But that’s the thing about artists who are really, really good. They have a way of making it look easy. In reality, winning at a high level competition like the University of Idaho’s Lionel Hampton festival year after year, takes determination, practice, and a positive attitude.
The GW Graham music department has all that jazz, and more.
They participated in the massive festival Feb. 23 to 24, and brought home two trophies for their efforts. Both their vocal jazz group, VOX, and their Senior Jazz Band impressed the adjudicators in their divisions. The wins add to a history of memorable trips for their school’s music department, headed by Shane Monkman.
“This was an eventful one for sure,” he said. “We took 45 kids down. We left on Thursday, came back on Sunday, and had five groups competing.”
That included their two vocal jazz bands, two jazz bands and a jazz combo, spanning Grades 8 through 12. And for some kids, that meant multiple performances as their participation in groups overlap.
This was a first time win for VOX, which is a senior group encompassing 13 male and female singers. The competition is fierce, with teams arriving from all over the Pacific Northwest. They competed right away on Friday morning, offering up three pieces to the adjudicators. While thousands of musicians compete in the festival, there isn’t much time to sit around and watch competitors.
So from there, they moved onto the daily workshop.
“It was really good, really positive,” Monkman said. “Our workshop was led by a vocal jazz composer and arranger, Dave Barduhn. He’s a bit of a vocal jazz guru, so to have the kids see him was really cool.”
When they headed back to the stage on Friday night to see who won their division, they were pleasantly surprised to see VOX on the screen. But then, it was time to rush and get onto the stage. They chose an arrangement of God Bless the Child from earlier in the day, and wowed audiences again.
And on Saturday, the senior jazz band performed. For Grade 12 musician Carla Young, it was a performance that marked the end of a five-year festival experience. She’s been playing the trombone since Grade 7, and has been traveling to Idaho with GW Graham since Grade 8.
She can see how much she’s grown over the years, as a student and as a musician, by how she has taken in the festival atmosphere.
“That first time I definitely did not know what to expect at all,” she says. “I feel like a veteran now, and I tell the younger players ‘remember to bring your music, remember to tune everything.’ I was mentored my first year and now I’m mentoring.”
She performed with the Senior Jazz Band, and recalls the moment they saw their school’s name on the screen as winners.
“You’re sitting in the big crowd, and your school name pops up on screen,” she says. “Of course, it’s just our school, so we get really excited. And we never prepare, I don’t know why but it’s always a new, exciting experience.”
When they raced to the bus in the few moments they had to grab their instruments, get into uniform, and get back to the performance area, the bus was nowhere to be seen.
“He was going to get gas,” Young says, laughing. When they made it back, some even running in socked feet through the snow, they played Count Bubba’s Revenge by Gordon Goodwin.
With all the laughs and fun they have along the way, it’s also a great chance for musicians to showcase their hometown to a large musical crowd. And it’s a chance for young musicians to realize that music is much bigger than just a school music program.
“It’s actually quite inspiring,” she says. “You don’t realize how many people are involved in music until you go there. So many schools go … and we get to bring Chilliwack over the border, our small town, and people are getting to know who we are.”
As she wraps up her high school career, and is about to embark on a post secondary adventure in kinesiology, she is looking back fondly on her years in music.
“When we’re playing, you see the results you’ve been working so hard for,” she says. And when you get the sound right, “you’re tingling and shivering, and think ‘this is definitely why I play.’”
Next up for GW Graham’s music department is a trip to Music Fest in Toronto this May.