Eight accomplished Washougal High School musicians joined the Northwest High School Honor Band at Pacific Lutheran University Jan. 5-6, in Tacoma.
The honors band features 250 top band students from Idaho, Oregon and Washington, and places them with renowned conductors and musicians to challenge themselves with new music, learn about their instruments and have the experience of performing with a large band.
Kelly Ritter, WHS band teacher of 14 years, said eight is the highest number of students to be accepted into the band.
Washougal has taken part in this honors band since at least 1995, when Ritter was a student at the school.
The WHS students included seniors Tessa Anderson, Katie Boon, Emma Hein, Bridgette McCarthy, Sydney Mederos and Phoebe Walker; as well as juniors Emily Johnson and Chloe Seymour.
The event allowed the students to work with conductors from major universities, Ritter said, including Emily Moss, the director of bands and director of instrumental music education for the department of music, theatre and dance at California State University, Los Angeles.
Moss, who is originally from Seattle and a University of Washington graduate, is someone who has done great things and is very well known and respected, Ritter adds.
Allan McMurray was the conductor of the top band at the event and is a distinguished professor and professor of conducting emeritus at the University of Colorado.
Seymour, the only alto clarinet in the honors band, said what she liked most about participating was working with well-known musicians and conductors and playing advanced music.
“It was really eye opening because I’ve never really been exposed to such esteemed people,” she said. “It was really cool to see how human they are, but also how different they are.”
Seymour said that McMurray was one of the most famous conductors in the world and it was really cool having him there to guide them.
When the accepted students arrived in Tacoma, they auditioned in front of a panel to be placed in the top or second band and be assigned a chair.
Johnson, who plays the trumpet, was placed in the third chair out of the 28 trumpets in the top band, Ritter said.
Johnson was a featured soloist in the performance of “An American Elegy,” which was conducted by McMurray and dedicated to the students of the Columbine shooting.
This performance was made important and impactful because McMurray shared a story with the band of when he conducted a concert for the students of Columbine after the shooting and there were three flowers placed on different seats to represent the lost students.
Ritter said she thinks the students really connected with the story and put a lot of meaning and effort into the performance which made it rise above some of the other performances.
Boon, who has played the flute for seven years, said the honors band was much more advanced and that she was able to play more challenging music.
The experience that stuck out to Boon, she said, was stepping out of her 30 person band in Washougal and playing with 120 other students at the event.
“It was hard to fit on stage, and it was just fun to work on how to play with that many people,” Boon said.
Seymour said from her experience she learned what it was like to play with a full instrumentation.
“There were so many instruments there that we don’t always have in our band,” she said. “There were bassoons, french horns, there was a contrabass clarinet. And it’s not that we couldn’t have those in our band, it’s just that we don’t and it was really unique to have that full sound.”
The honors band allows students to get a different experience from the everyday band classroom, Seymour said. Everyone comes together and makes music, it’s just really beautiful.
The band had about 24 hours to learn the five songs they played. Boon said the event was challenging, but rewarding.
“Especially because it shows you how hard you need to be able to work to be proficient in everything,” Boon said.
Ritter said the PLU experience is always a favorite for her students.
“They get the opportunity to sit in an ensemble surrounded by the top kids from bands across the state,” Ritter said. “They’re potentially sitting by the best musician of another band.”
The WHS students were fortunate to have so many attend the honors band, Ritter said, adding that many other schools only send one student.
“I know my (students) get a lot out of playing more challenging pieces and learning from people with a lot of experience,” Ritter said.
Boon said she recommends the experience for other young musicians.
“You learn so much about musicians all over the region and especially about yourself,” she said. “You learn about how you rank and how you can compare yourself to other musicians and how you can improve yourself more.”