The Shawano High School Jazz I band recently competed against 11 other bands at the Rolling Meadows Jazz Festival on February 24, where they won their room.
The Shawano Jazz band is split into two bands, Jazz I and Jazz II. Both drove down to Rolling Meadows, Illinois, on a bus and stayed overnight for the festival.
When competing, each band has an assigned room based on their size. The rooms are all in a specific site, and there, they compete against all the other bands. Jazz II performed noncompetitively because their room had already filled up.
Events like these are critical, and Shawano Jazz has shown they can handle it. The last Rolling Meadows festival was two years ago where they took first for the eighth consecutive year. Mr. Kent, the band director, has led these students to many victories and plans on continuing the streak. However, there were many struggles in preparing for this festival such as having a major time crunch between recording for Ellington and the festival. Ellington was a Jazz competition that Jazz I auditioned for but did not qualify.
Senior Marcus Welander from Jazz I stated, “We are so much better now from the start because we attempted to audition for Ellington, which really pushed us. Personally, it’s hard for me to stay motivated to practice constantly. It gets old playing the same songs over and over. You just have to push yourself harder because you know you have to get better.”
Sophomore Sage Tomashek from Jazz II added, “In the beginning, we had tension because everyone wasn’t as committed when we started. From there we progressed as a band entirely. Now everyone puts in the work and enjoys it.”
It takes hours of relentless practice to get a piece down. Making time was one of the many challenges for the jazz group. Another challenge was the demanding solos that had to be played. One of the outstanding soloists was senior Nathan Meisner from Jazz I who played during the festival performance.
Mr. Kent stated, “Players in all the sections have stepped up, and the leaders and soloists are working hard. Most importantly though, the band has become a very close group. They don’t just play or work for themselves. They do it for each other as well. Like I tell my students, if we play our best it does not matter what the judges think because we will know what we did, but our best should be enough to win our site. I think that Jazz II will improve tremendously from Purdue and that they will be happy with the way they play.”
Festivals are both nerve-wracking and lively. Getting to experience those moments has different effects on people. Welander and Tomashek both agreed the struggle is all worth it in the end, no matter if they win or lose.
“I would have to say that the best part is the kids getting to see, hear and interact with students from almost 70 other schools. There are schools with 400 students to 4,000 students. I think it is so important for my students to hear what other bands sound like so they can strive to achieve the next level,” said Mr. Kent.
To these students, going to Jazz festivals and competitions is not just to win but to have fun and express their passion through music. This passion has led Welander to continue music at UW Stevens Point next year in hopes to become a high school band teacher.
Welander described his experience saying,“If you were to dedicate my drive for music to anyone it would be Mr. Kent because he is the one who pushed me into joining jazz my sophomore year. Without that, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”