Wednesday, April 22, 2009

South O'Brien second at state jazz event

PAULLINA-It was a great day to be a Wolverine.

At least, that's how students and staff felt during the welcome home assembly held for the South O'Brien High School Jazz Band on Wednesday afternoon in Paullina.

"For the second year in a row, we've been able to celebrate like this as a student body," superintendent Dick Nervig said at the celebration rally. "To have parents and community members here, and of course, our jazz band."

South O'Brien placed second in the Class 2A portion of the Iowa Jazz Championships on Tuesday in Des Moines. Southern Cal topped the Wolverines in the evening finals.

"Just to give you some perspective, of all the schools in the state of Iowa, there were 60 bands from 60 schools that earned the right to compete in Des Moines yesterday, and there were 15 schools in Class 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A," Nervig told the ecstatic crowd. "As I sat and listened to these bands as they performed in the first round of competition, I was just amazed at the quality of talent displayed."

When all of the bands were done performing, the group moved to the Des Moines Civic Center to hear the top eight selections in each class.

"They do this crazy process," Nervig said. "They start out, 'In ninth place,' 'in eighth place,' 'in seventh place,' 'in sixth place, fifth place, fourth place,' and they still haven't said South O'Brien."

Rolling past sixth-place finisher Roland Story, which South O'Brien defeated in the finals last year to claim the Class 2A state title, and Okoboji, which placed fourth, many South O'Brien jazz members were beginning to wonder if their ensemble even placed.

"We didn't even know if we were going to qualify this year," said senior Christine Haden.

It's no wonder they expected the worst.

After a teaching change, the jazz band program at South O'Brien was discontinued two years ago, even thought he band had earned three straight top-five finishes. Then, Ryan Rager, fresh out of college, came and resurrected the once-successful jazz band program at South O'Brien.

But, Rager resigned in October, leaving the band without a director.

Ensemble members still committed to having regular rehearsals on their own, until former Sioux City North High School director Kevin Linder was hired in November.

Despite the change in instructors amid thebeginning of the jazz band season, South O'Brien jazz members uttered gasps of shock when they still managed to make it to the finals.

"We had a lot of doubt," said senior Ashton Lansink. "When they said South O'Brien was in the finals, a huge weight lifted off our shoulders."

The ensemble members were not the only ones who were happy.

"When they announced that we had made it to the top two, the parents and fans there exploded just like you have, with enthusiasm and maturity," Nervig said. "It was fantastic. I'm very pleased, and what I want to say to this group of jazz band members is, you've really modeled something for the rest of us."

After automatically qualifying for the Iowa Jazz Championships by placing second at the Northwest Iowa District Jazz Band Festival on Feb. 3 in Sioux City, South O'Brien had 20 minutes to impress the judges Tuesday afternoon at the Polk County Convention Complex in Des Moines. The top two bands from the first round moved onto the evening finals at the Civic Center, pitting South O'Brien against Southern Cal.

Sough O'Brien was announced as the Class 2A runner-up about 11 p.m.

Even though South O'Brien did not capture the state title for the second consecutive year, Linder still was proud of the band's strong showing.

"It was just great to have the opportunity to hit that stage last night against Southern Cal," he said. "Southern Cal has won seven consecutive jazz championships, mostly in Class 1A. They moved up to Class 2A this year. The band director there is an old student of mine, and they have a great program. We were honored to be on the stage with them."

But, had South O'Brien had to compete again Wednesday, Linder said the results could have changed.

"It was a great experience yesterday, but you have to understand, it's not like football or basketball or tennis or golf, where there is a clear-cut winner," he said. "It's a very subjective thing. It is hard. If we'd go back tomorrow and do this again, who knows?"

One thing was for certain. South O'Brien could not have had such a strong showing if it was not for the dedication of Linder and the ensemble members.

"What it takes for these people to even qualify, to be in a group of this nature, you have to spend hours and hours of time just to get to the point where you might possibly have this chance," Linder said. "Just coming in and being here at 6:45, 7 a.m., three to five days a week, depending on the week, it's just beyond the call of duty, and they have never really wavered in their effort."

But, Linder said none of that would have been done without the fundamentals taught by elementary and middle school band directors like Rebecca Meyer.

"I want you to give Mrs. Meyer a huge round of applause," Linder said. "The high school band director reaps the benefits of having a great elementary and middle school teacher, and these kids were started by her. She's really the hero as far as I'm concerned."

Meyer then directed the audience's attention to bass guitar player Kaitlyn Aberson, who was named one of the top four soloists in Class 2A. Only an eighth-grader, Aberson did not even start learning how to play the bass until last April.

"It's pretty exhilirating," Aberson said. "I never expected this at all."

Sophomore flutist Kaitlin Thiel received an outstanding soloist award for the South O'Brien band.

Senior Kyle Einck also took the microphone on Wednesday, congratulating his band mates for all of their hard work and dedication.

"Throughout the course of my high school career, I have had the craziest band experience ever," he said. "We've had five teachers come, and yet, we've still had great success. I mean, there are schools that have had teachers there for 10 years and they don't even have half of what we have. It's crazy - 7 in the morning, but in the end, we still do it, and look what happens. Thanks a lot guys. Thanks for the great four years, and good luck next year."
This article appeared in the April 18, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.

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