Music has always been an important part of the Aurelia School. Many awards grace the trophy cases and the walls of the music rooms, earned by the dedicated band and choir members through the years. This year is no exception.
The jazz band, under the direction of Jason Heeren, will compete at the state jazz event in April. This is the 10th straight year the band has earned its way to the top. The band members have earned all first place ratings for their toe-tapping, can't-stop-applauding jazzy tunes performed at several contests this season.
This year's jazz choir, under the direction of Deb Peterson, has earned a trip to the first state jazz choir contest later this month.
The two directors can't say enough good things about the students they currently have and those who have helped earn honors for the school over the years.
"There has always been a lot of ambition," said Peterson, who has been with the school for her entire 25-year teaching career. "They work hard and they enjoy it."
Heeren added, "There is great dedication but every teacher here expects each student to work to his or her full potential and hold themselves to that standard of excellence. When the kids understand that, they are willing to work. We're there for them. We want them to have the best opportunities they can."
And the numbers of those involved in the music program shows that. Seventy percent of the 125 high school students are involved in the fine arts programs - which includes not only the music side but the speech area as well.
The success of the programs are not only due to the dedicated students, who come to school early for practice and often stay late for a performance of some kind, and find time to fit in their studies and all the other many activities they are a part of, but to the committed directors as well.
Peterson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last June. She continues to fight the battle and is nearing the completion of her treatments. Her heart remains with her students and though she has missed school days during the treatments, it is her students that keep her going. She knows too well with a small staff, if she wouldn't have put forth all her efforts, some of the fun groups, such as swing choir and jazz choir which she directs, would have been dropped for a year. And she couldn't do that to her students.
She credits Heeren for helping her out when needed.
And he credits her for all the wisdom she has shared with him, a relatively new teacher.
"I couldn't ask for a better person to work with," he said. "She's been my savior." Heeren came to Aurelia as a senior in college and he has enjoyed every minute. "This has been the perfect place to get started (with my career.)"
When the last band director jumped overboard shortly after the school year began, Heeren came in contact with the superintendent and principal. Though he was not a full-fledged teacher at that time, he was willing to help out. For his last semester at college, he drove from Sioux City early in the mornings for jazz band practices and then drove back to complete his classes. Once again, Peterson and others were instrumental in keeping the rest of the band program afloat.
After graduating from college, he was hired on as a full-time staff member. He has been with the school for five full years.
While the jazz band is getting a great deal of recognition at this time, Heeren is quick to say that everyone in the band, and choir, deserves the same recognition.
"There are a lot of great musicians here and not any of them are any lesser. They are all part of this group. Every kid is important."
Aurelia is proud of the fact that there is a marching band, pep band, choir band, jazz band, swing choir, concert choir and jazz choir, not to mention the ensemble groups that are formed to compete at contests.
The administration and the community has always backed the music department, and, Heeren said, "we couldn't ask for a better booster club."
The booster members, parents of the music kids, help in fundraising efforts which in turn provides equipment for the department.
One of the unique items the booster club helped purchase this year was a commissioned piece of music for the jazz band by composer Rick Stitzel. Heeren and the students helped in the final arrangement. The music cost $600 and was given the name "A-Town" for Aurelia. The piece has been well-received by everyone who has heard it played and this year's band members take pride in playing the piece. Heeren said that members of the community made donations toward the cost and he is grateful.
"That shows how much everyone appreciates the music department," Heeren said.
The Aurelia Jazz Band is the only band playing "A-Town" this year; next year the piece will be for sale for other jazz groups to purchase and he is sure it will be heard being played elsewhere.
The musicians will be rewarded in April with a music trip to Arlington, Texas in April. Though they will be performing, there will be plenty of time for fun and memories. Every four years a trip is offered.
"I really enjoy the fact that the kids work hard and enjoy performing," concluded Peterson, who gets emotionally close to all her students. "It's fun to watch the kids, some are so shy, and see them grow (musically.)"