Band students from South Whidbey High School and Oak Harbor Public Schools have been selected from among thousands of young musicians to represent their schools at the state and regional levels.
From South Whidbey, seniors Katherine and Sarah Zundel and junior Annie Campbell qualified for the All-Northwest music ensembles, which is made up of six states in a regional grouping: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.
Freshman Rylie Patching, who attends a different school but is also from the South Whidbey community, qualified too.
Freshman Lola Chargualaf from Oak Harbor High School received the same honor.
In addition, students from Oak Harbor were also selected for the All-State music ensembles, including juniors Cooper Billiter and Hannah Williams and sophomore Isadora White. Middle school students Morgan Partridge and Phillip Esterdahl were chosen for the Junior All-State competition.
Chris Harshman, the music director for South Whidbey High School, said that during a “normal, non-COVID” year, students would travel to a conference as part of their reward and perform with a nationally or internationally known conductor.
But because of the virus, in-person performances have been eliminated and instead students will attend the conference virtually. Master classes, and other classes, will be held online.
Nevertheless, the recognition is still an honor to receive.
“For a student, especially a student who is getting close to graduation, this is a pretty high achievement and it goes into their portfolio when they’re applying and auditioning to colleges,” Harshman said.
The students sent in recordings of themselves performing back in September. This past year, they have practiced a lot on their own and there hasn’t been much of an opportunity for in-person instruction.
“So much of their work goes unseen,” Harshman said. “Making an accomplishment like this reflects on the many, many hours they put in.”
Brandon Nelson, the band teacher for Oak Harbor High School, said the past year has involved many changes in music classes.
“We have been focusing on students as whole musicians, rather than preparing band shows,” Nelson said. “We’re going in depth on practice strategies, music literacy and history.”
This month, an officer from the United States Marine Band will be speaking with Oak Harbor students about careers and leadership within the Marine Band.
Students are also listening to Civil Rights era music and talking about how it uses musical sounds to illustrate violence and progress.
They are also learning how to record multiple tracks and practicing along with recordings.
“We may be reinventing the wheel one day at a time, but I insist on having fun every day, and I tell the students as much,” Nelson said. “All of us have to get through this, and all of us can find ways to learn and have fun in spite of it.”
For Katherine Zundel, who has played saxophone for the past six years, this is her first time being named as part of the All-Northwest Band.
“The pandemic has been a little rough for my musical experience,” she said.
“I miss getting to play with ensembles and am sad that I don’t get to perform at competitions this year especially since this is my senior year.”
On the bright side, she added, she has had a lot more time to practice and feels like she has been able to improve her skills throughout this year.
Her sister Sarah Zundel, who plays trombone, agreed.
“Practicing has been very different this year,” she said. “It is harder to motivate myself to keep practicing every day but qualifying for All-State made it feel worthwhile.”
Harshman said freshmen very rarely qualify for the honor. This year, Rylie Patching, a former pupil of his who plays the bassoon, made the cut.
“The pandemic has made it really hard on musicians to feel the instant reward of winning and the excitement you get from other people’s energy in-person,” said Patching, who has played her instrument for three years.
She added that she is grateful for Harshman’s support.
“He has been with me on my bassoon journey since the beginning,” she said.