North Kitsap bands dominate at California music festival

Members of the NKHS Heritage Festival winning band groups from left to right: junior Erica Dowden, junior Caelan Colyer, sophomore Ali Marks, sophomore Shannon Nakaya and junior Jason McDougal.   - Tara Lemm/Staff Photo
Members of the NKHS Heritage Festival winning band groups from left to right: junior Erica Dowden, junior Caelan Colyer, sophomore Ali Marks, sophomore Shannon Nakaya and junior Jason McDougal.
— image credit: Tara Lemm/Staff Photo

POULSBO — The five sections of the North Kitsap High School band know how to jam and can bring down the house.

And that’s exactly what the 81 members of the NKHS wind symphony, symphonic band, percussion ensemble, varsity jazz band and LAB jazz band did at the Heritage Music Festival at Fullerton College in California May 22-25.

The NKHS musicians competed with approximately 1,900 musicians who comprised 31 instrumental groups, and all of NKHS’s groups placed either first or second at the festival.

Talented and hard working students make up NKHS’ band, said director Susan Peters, and at the festival it showed.

“The judge came on stage and said, ‘There’s not much I can say to this group you did an outstanding job,’” Peters recalled as she brimmed with pride. “Our students are playing a college-level caliber of music and doing an outstanding, exceptional job with it.”

Outstanding is the operative word, as three of the five groups received a Gold Award for an “Outstanding” performance and three individuals were recognized as “Outstanding Soloists.”

The wind symphony placed first and received the “Judge’s Choice” award, and was invited to attend the prestigious “Gold Award Contest,” in Washington, D.C. or Chicago. The varsity jazz and percussion ensembles also received golds, while the symphonic and LAB jazz bands received silvers.

Among the 1,900 individual musicians less than 12 were recognized as “Outstanding Soloists,” and three of those 12 belong to NKHS.

Jordan Gilman was recognized for his soprano and alto sax solos with the varsity jazz band, Briar Doty for his tenor sax solo with the varsity jazz band and John Stiffler for his clarinet solo with the wind symphony.

Once again Peters was overcome with pride.

“I am very impressed with how serious our students are and their level of excellence is awe-inspiring,” she said. “They don’t sound like a typical high school band. They just do a super job.”

Peters said each section performed 20 to 30 minutes of music and played some very challenging pieces. The wind symphony played “Blue Shades,” by Ti Chelli, which is a very difficult piece, and the jazz ensemble performed “Dialogue Poteau,” which is a grade-five piece — it’s college level and one of the “most difficult to play.”

To reach such an elite level of instrumental ability the band students practice overtime. They have private lessons, they practice daily at home and with Peters five days a week and sometimes on the weekends.

But for the students who are instrumental fanatics, it’s all worth it. Especially when the hundreds of hours of musical diligence comes together, like it did at the Heritage Festival.

Junior clarinet, saxophone and piano star Jason McDougal said it was great to be a part of the group on stage at the festival.

“You have to remember there’s countless hours of individual preparation and then you collect all these people together and there’s a lot of amazing stuff going on when that happens,” said McDougal, who’s in band to spend time with others who love to play. “It’s just really neat when it comes together like it did at our performance in California.”

Perhaps even more amazing than the bands’ quality of performance at the festival, Peters said, was the way they conducted themselves while in California and the amount of money they raised to make the trip.

The band, with the help of parents, boosters and fundraising efforts, raised approximately $75,000 for the trip.

“It’s not cheap to get 100 people down to California,” Peters said. “We’ve been working on this since last summer.”

And once the 100 arrived in California they had a sunny good time filled with respect and integrity.

They went to Disneyland, Universal Studios and hit other Southern California hot spots.

“Everywhere we went people commented on how well behaved and respectful these students were,” Peters said. “They set an amazing example for our school and community.”

Peters said the various bands perform for more than 75,000 people each year, and they still have a few more performances to give. The NKHS bands will perform tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the North Kitsap Auditorium. The event is free. On Saturday the NKHS percussion ensemble will host a free concert at 7 p.m. also at the NK Auditorium.

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