Semiahmoo Secondary music students are celebrating two back-to-back successes in February, claiming top spots in both a regional and an international festival.
At the 35th annual Surrey Jazz Festival at Surrey Arts Centre, Feb. 17-18 – which draws student musicians from throughout B.C. – Semiahmoo’s Grade 10 Jazz Band was named both the best overall junior jazz band and best Surrey junior jazz band, while the Grade 12 Jazz Band was named the best overall senior jazz band as well as best Surrey senior jazz band.
And last weekend, Feb. 24-26, Grade 11s and 12s travelled to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho – which annually draws thousands of students from across the U.S. and Canada – coming away with a win as the best band in the AA category (Jazz Band 11) and an honorable mention in the AAA category (Jazz Band 12).
In other Hampton Festival results, Semi’s Julian Marlyn Trio was among the top three combos chosen by adjudicators to play on stage at the festival’s concluding concert, while trombonist Marlyn, bassist Max Zhang and drummer Brandon Lygo were among seven musicians chosen to solo in the concert’s showcase band.
In addition, Zhang was singled out as top soloist of the festival – winning a $1,500 scholarship.
But, as Semi music director Dagan Lowe pointed out, another local student also came away with his share of glory.
Elgin Park Secondary student Braden Williams was chosen top guitar soloist, he noted, adding that Semi musicians make a point of cheering on other musicians and bands’ efforts whenever they attend festivals.
“He’s an excellent guitarist and also a good sax player, I understand,” he said.
There were multiple individual honours for Semi students at the Surrey Jazz Festival.
In the junior category, Allie Ho scored the hat trick of being named best overall musician, best overall trumpet player and best Surrey trumpet player. Anica Su was chosen best overall vibraphonist, while Jauvan Mattu got the nod as best overall drummer. Jazz Band 10 was honoured for having the best Surrey junior rhythm section.
Among seniors, Zhang was named best overall musician, while Marlyn was named best Surrey musician and best Surrey trombonist, and Annie Lu was recognized as best Surrey trumpet player.
Jazz Band 12 was also honoured for best overall rhythm section, with the award for best Surrey rhythm section going to Jazz Band 11.
A combined Grade 11-12 combo was selected as the best overall senior combo, and best Surrey senior combo.
Among other award recipients were Nick Svab, with a $500 scholarship to Vancouver Community College; Kelly Chan, with a full scholarship to the Drayton Harbour Music Camp; and Daniel Kim, who claimed the Lorna Graham Memorial Scholarship of $350 presented by the Peninsula Arts Foundation.
In addition, the Grade 11 and Grade 12 bands were highlighted together in the festival’s senior showcase, while the Grade 10 band split the junior showcase with Pacific Academy.
Claiming top overall senior band – as well as top Surrey band – at the Surrey Jazz Festival this year was a very emotional moment for the Grade 12 Jazz Band, its director Kevin Lee said.
“The band kind of struggled, at first, this year – they worked hard to get where they are, and reached something they didn’t think they would do,” he said.
“Early in the fall they wanted to have fun, they didn’t want to put the effort in. In the last few months, things started to click – they learned a lot about working for a goal and working together.”
“They realized it wasn’t up to Kevin – they had to make it great,” Lowe said.
“I told them ‘it’s not my band, it’s your band’,” Lee said.
“I gave them ownership. They got serious and began to believe, started working toward it. Eventually it was something they wanted to do.”
For Lowe, the Grade 11 Jazz Band – which scored so well at the Hampton festival – has not presented any challenges.
“They’re fabulous – a very strong band with extremely talented soloists. They’ve had a lot of success for the beginning of the year, and that success breeds success and helped them believe in each other.”
Professional drummer Chris Baker – one of the adjudicators at the Hampton festival – paid the band a huge compliment, Lowe noted.
“”He said ‘when I head your band it sounded like they knew exactly what that piece was supposed to sound like’,” he recalled.
“That was an amazing compliment to the kids and how they listen to, and learn from, professional bands.”
Both Lowe and Lee note that one of the keys to the Semi bands’ success is that the students have a sense of pride and tradition and are largely self-motivated to make the most of practice sessions.
Since they established a sign-up for music rooms, the list has been filled up with bands, sections and combos wanting to hone their sound, they said.
Ultimately the music program is not as much about teaching musical skills as it is about teaching them about how to be the best they can be,” Lowe and Lee said.
“I don’t think our kids see playing in a festival as a competition. I tell them that ‘playing to win’ is for losers. When they go to festivals they like to listen to what the other kids are doing. They like to get ideas from other kids – there’s always something you can learn.”
“Often they’re choosing the music they’re playing,” said Lowe. “We give them a lot of music, but they choose the charts. It becomes natural that this or that is the piece they’re going to end up playing.”
“The kids stay in band together from Grade 8 to Grade 12,” Lee added.
“They become best friends. They understand each others’ strengths and weaknesses and help each other. That doesn’t really happen in math class, and even sports teams are transitory, but the music kids stay together.”