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North Kitsap Vikings jazzed about music festival

POULSBO — For some, this week’s Viking Jazz Fest is just another school band competition. It’s much more to the North Kitsap High School students who host it.

“We call it a festival because we don’t really think of it as a competition,” said North Kitsap senior Alex Vining, who plays tenor saxophone and tuba. “It’s really about improving at jazz.”

The two-day festival, which kicked off at 8 a.m. Thursday with middle school and junior high competitions and workshops and continues today with high school activities, is a time when students from around the state descend on Poulsbo for a little extra music education. Bands play 20-minute sets at the North Kitsap Auditorium throughout the day, and meet with judges to examine and improve their sound. They also get to hear what their peers have to offer.

“That’s part of the whole education thing, the fact that we get to share our music with each other and learn from each other,” North Kitsap High Band Director Susan Peters said.

Students also get an informal lesson in people skills. Musicians in the North Kitsap High jazz band are assigned to act as liaisons for the visiting bands.

“It’s a lot of people work,” said North Kitsap junior Victoria Bartoldus, who plays piano and trumpet. “You have to be able to deal with crowds. Some of those band directors get pretty stressed out.”

Those crowds can also get pretty big. This week’s festival featured 20 middle school bands on Thursday and 27 high school bands today. Many musicians bring family and friends as well.

The variety of musicians and sounds gives local students the chance to mingle with peers who may introduce them to new ideas. Or, it can simply be a chance to make new friends. Conversation comes easy between fellow music lovers.

“You just kind of meet everybody,” Bartoldus said. “You’ll be like, ‘Hey, you played that slap bass solo,’ and they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, you play for North, right?’”

After every high school band plays and meets with judges today, the competition portion of the festival begins. The schools will be divided into two groups according to size and judges will select the three best bands in each group. At 7:30 p.m. today, those top six bands will each play a special three-song concert to compete for the first-place prize in their respective groups. A special guest band, the Emerald City Jazz Orchestra, will also perform at 8:30 p.m. tonight.

Entry to the festival is free during the morning and afternoon performances Friday. Tickets to the final concert are available at the door for $8 apiece.

The North Kitsap High jazz band does not compete in the festival, so it can focus on its duties as event host. But the band will play a special four-song show to open tonight’s concert.

“Their performance is matched to the top three finalist bands, so we want to make sure we sound as good as those groups,” Peters said.

That can be a challenge, students say, in a festival teeming with talent.

“There’s some bands that stand out because they’re crazy good. But you see them the next year and they’re even better,” Bartoldus said. “It’s a learning experience.”

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