Jazz Band grateful to perform this year
Megan Benz, 9th-12th grade band director at Alta-Aurelia High School, is impressed with how her jazz band students are handling changes in performing music this school year.
‘’The students are doing a great job taking all of the changes in stride,” she said. “They do a wonderful job following all of the new safety expectations. Although they are disappointed that the jazz season was so much shorter than usual, most students are thankful that we got to have a jazz season with live performances at all. We are very lucky and thankful that we have gotten the opportunity to continue playing through the pandemic in a safe manner.”
Alta-Aurelia attended 3 competitions this year for jazz band: IHSMA State Jazz Band Festival on Feb. 1st in Fort Dodge where they received a Division 1 Superior rating; Iowa Lakes Community College Jazz Band Contest on Feb. 11th; and NWIBA District Jazz Festival on Feb. 22nd in Sioux City where they received a Division 1 Superior rating. They will play at the AltaAurelia High School concert on March 9th.
“Quite a few of the competitions were cancelled this year due to the pandemic,” Benz said. “In a normal year, we would attend about twice as many contests. Some festivals transitioned to a virtual setting, some were changed to non-competitive with bands receiving a rating rather than placement, and some were simply cancelled.”
‘’The audience allowance was also a big change from past years: there was an audience allowed at State, a limited audience allowed at Districts, and no audience allowed at ILCC. Performing also feels slightly different this year as we play in a socially distanced setting with a lot more room between players than normal, use bell covers for instruments and students wear slitted masks that allow them to still be masked while playing,” she said.
Benz also teaches 3rd and 4th grade general music, and this is her second year in the Alta-Aurelia school district.
The 23 jazz band students are in grades 9-12. Lili Solis of Aurelia is in her second year of jazz band. “I started playing the saxophone about 2 months before practices had started which terrified me. I thought I would be unable to keep up. Although the first couple weeks were rough, I quickly advanced in the instrument with all the help from my peers and Ms. Benz,” Solis said.
She knew there would be obstacles this year. “I was also scared of now being the senior that had to step up to the lead plate. Due to the positive vibes we share in the band room and supportive friendships the fear was quickly replaced with confidence. Although I was only a part of this program for two years I will forever cherish the memories and consider it one of the most supportive, uplifting and fun organizations to be a part of,” she said.
Both seasons she has played alto saxophone which she said is way more fun than playing flute, her primary instrument. “One of my many favorite memories with the A-A jazz band is the origination of the phrase “Hey man, what’s up?” The phrase was used during a clinic by Damani Phillips during one of our 2019-2020 clinics. It was used to push us to think of the music as words and emotion rather than notes and rhythms.”
When it comes to picking a least favorite memory nothing comes to mind,” Solis said.
“Although there were times that we wish we played better or we messed up solos we always returned with positive attitudes and full spirits on improving ourselves.”
The season was cut in half because of the spread of COVID. “Not only were we limited to performances, our audience was also limited, which most times is what gave us our rush. Although there were many obstacles considering the virus we never failed to stay optimistic and thankful for having the opportunities we still had.”
After high school, Solis will train with the Iowa Army National Guard and in college plans to study Family and Consumer Science Secondary Education. Her goal is to continue playing alto in jazz band in college. “I enjoy the atmosphere jazz brings too much to not continue with it throughout my life.”
“One thing I would like to add is a huge shoutout to Ms. Benz! I know I speak for all us kids when I say thank you so very very much for all the things you do for us so we can have our program! You’re a rock star!” she said.
Brennan Shea of Aurelia has five years of jazz band under his belt, two in middle school and three in high school. He plays drum set, bass, auxiliary percussion and vibes. “My best memory is hanging out with my friends throughout the jazz band season. My least favorite memory is when I have to wake up for early practices! The practice pays off though, so it is worth it!” Shea said.
He spoke of adversities this year. “Things are different because the bands have to be distanced. We all have to wear masks, and the bells of the instruments have covers. We also have to follow safety procedures when we enter the contests.”
‘’The biggest challenge we faced was in November when we would have new people practicing with each other each practice. That was due to students being out because of COVID. That definitely presented a challenge at the beginning of the season,” Shea said.
Shea plans to attend college and will continue to play his instruments as a hobby after high school. He lives in Galva.
Morgan Westphal of Aurelia has been in jazz band since 7th grade and plays the valve trombone for jazz band and the euphonium for everything else. “My best memory was when we went to Morningside last year for a competition, we got to go to the mall for a bit and the stage was beautiful. My least favorite memory is every time I forgot to bring something to competitions,” Westphal said.
“The biggest change is that we had less competitions to go to and when we did have one there was a lot of rules and regulations to follow. We also have to wear special masks while playing.”
As for the future, “I would love to do band after high school. I would like to do pep band in college or jazz band.”