PAULLINA—The South O’Brien Junior High/High School Jazz Ensemble recently got into their competitive groove.
The 21-member musical group held their first festival of the season on Jan. 13 in Fort Dodge, where they beat Fort Dodge St. Edmond Catholic School for first place in Class 1A.
Senior tenor saxophonist Sofie Leng and junior baritone saxophonist Grant Wagner were also recognized with outstanding soloist awards for their performances.
“It’s a great start,” said Rebecca Meyer, who started leading the 7-12 group at school in the fall.
She is in her 17th year teaching music in the district. Meyer has taught TK-6 grades in elementary school for the past eight years. Before that, she alternated between teaching in middle school and elementary school.
“It was a big change for me, but they made it so easy and smooth and exceptional,” Meyer said of her students in the group.
About half of the students in the group are high school juniors and seniors, while the other half are in grades 7-10. Since she was an elementary school teacher, many of the students Meyer worked with this year are ones she had in class years ago.
“It’s fun to work with them on a different level and see how they’ve grown,” she said.
Meyer and his students transitioned from marching band to jazz season in October and have been preparing for the competitive festival schedule ever since.
She said the jazz ensemble did not go to the Fort Dodge festival with no expectation of how it would fare in the competition; instead, she and her students were eager to receive feedback from the judges so they knew areas for improvement.
The jazz ensemble’s repertoire for the season consists of three songs. The first is a swing tune entitled “Groovin’ Hard” by Don Menza; the second is a ballad called “’Round Midnight” by Cootie Williams and Thelonious Monk; and the third is “Children of Sanchez” by Chuck Mangione.
Meyer’s students – especially seniors – helped her select the songs, as it was her freshman year.
“It was teamwork,” she said. “The swing track I had in mind was the one I really wanted to do. Sofie had heard a few different tenor sax characteristics, and that’s the one we chose. Then the upper classes really wanted to play to “Children of Sanchez”.
The week after competing at Fort Dodge, Meyer invited retired Okoboji School District music directors Greg and Julie Forney to work with the South O’Brien Jazz Ensemble for a music clinic.
She praised the way her students respond to feedback as well as their work ethic when it comes to practice.
“Our goal as music educators is to bring students from wherever they are as musicians and help them become better musicians – which I think is every coach’s goal. for the athletes on their team – to become better than they are now,” she said.
“But just like athletes who don’t put in time outside of practice, musicians will only improve if they put in the effort outside of rehearsal.”
His students’ most recent competition was the Iowa High School Music Association’s Jazz Band Festival on Monday, Jan. 24 at MOC-Floyd Valley High School in Orange City, where they earned a “top” Division I grade. .
The group’s next festival will take place on February 9 at Morningside University in Sioux City. After that, the band will compete in the Northwest Iowa Bandmasters Association District Jazz Contest on Feb. 21 at LeMars High School.
If the group performs well enough in the districts, it will qualify for the Iowa Jazz Championships which will be held on April 5 in Ames.
“It would be nice to get back to Ames in April, I’m not going to lie, but we just want to keep improving and keep doing our best and having fun,” Meyer said. “That’s what it’s all about, it’s just playing music together and having fun doing it.”