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Awards aplenty for WLHS musicians

Anyone who sees West Linn High School Band Director Jeff Cumpston will recognize him around the school campus. He's the man wearing the widest smile.

This is a banner year for the 12-year veteran of WLHS. It's not only his final year at the school (he's leaving in June, moving his family to Zimbabwe, Africa), but also this is a year when his students are proving that the skills, confidence, love and support he has given them has not been in vain.

With nary an exception this year, his performing groups and individual soloists are reflecting the spotlight of success even more than in previous years.

This is festival season, Cumpston said. Some festivals are competitive, while some just give young musicians the experience of performing for people with discerning ears.

The jazz band came through in grand style at the Clackamas Community College Jazz Festival, winning not only its division, but also the festival's sweepstakes award, which means the WLHS band was the best of all divisions. In addition, bass player Kate Davis was among the festival's outstanding soloists and alto sax player Hailey Niswanger was chosen as the festival's top soloist in all divisions.

Cumpston was impressed because this was the first time a WLHS band has won that festival.

'This is a very competitive festival,' he said, 'and they played phenomenally well.'

The jazz ensemble also competed in Seattle at the very-competitive Bellevue High School Jazz Festival. Cumpston says the large schools in the Seattle area produce some top-notch musicians. At this festival, West Linn placed fourth, and Cumpston says his ultimate goal with that festival is to place in the top six.

Goal achieved.

In the two-day non-competitive festival at Oregon State University last month, the WLHS symphonic band earned the highest scores of any band in the festival.

At the prestigious George Fox University festival, also non-competitive, the WLHS band played about 20 minutes of exquisite music and earned the highest scores of all bands in the festival.

'There were some very fine bands there,' Cumpston said. 'They were the higher-end bands such as those from Salem and Lake Oswego. Those bands are really good.'

Obviously, West Linn was better.

These young musicians are among the best that Cumpston has under instruction. The band is available only by audition, Cumpston said, 'and plays music that is more challenging than the other groups. It's actually college level music.'

The school's two concert bands - Concert Band 1 (all others) and Concert Band 2 (freshman) - pleased Cumpston with their 'outstanding performance' at the winter concert.

'I couldn't be more pleased with the musical results,' he said, 'and it was very clear that the audience really enjoyed the show.'

While the ensembles were shining in the spotlight, there were a number of soloists getting the nod in league and district competitions.

In that volunteer contest, about 50 student musicians from WLHS joined the competition to go to the state contest, and four emerged as winners while many others earned 'alternate' status.

The four winners included Max Blair on oboe, Kyle Brooks on trombone, and Kate Davis on bass and violin.

Those chosen as first alternate, who may end up also going to state are Emma Davis on flute, Anna Holly on snare drum, Charlie Iwata on tuba, Ryan Meade on marimba, Melanie Schultz on bassoon, Christie Smith on oboe, Annaliesse Sytsma on snare drum and Alyssa Walhoud on French horn.

Touting his outstanding wind and percussion instrumentalists, Cumpston said they joined the string orchestra to form a symphony orchestra, which went on to win league competition, qualifying it also to go to state.

In addition, the school's string orchestra earned qualifying scores, and will join the others at state.

Next on the music department's agenda is today's concert band competition at Western Oregon University and next Tuesday's league contest for symphonic bands, which is very competitive, Cumpston says, especially against Lake Oswego High School.

However, let the record show that the WLHS band has won the league title nine of the last 11 years.

Then the musicians will be focused on a month of preparing for the tough state competition.

Other awards during recent weeks have included Hailey Niswanger playing first alto sax in the Gibson/Baldwin GRAMMY Jazz Band (her second year at the Grammys) as well as being selected to the Jazz Band of America.

Also Emma Davis won the Vancouver Symphony Concerto competition with her flute and earned the soloist spotlight in one of the symphony's spring concerts.

Cumpston said he would like to have his students win the final league contest as well as a host of state awards, but acknowledged that he will be happy even if they don't emerge on top.

'When it comes down to it,' he said, 'it doesn't matter in the long run. It's just kids playing great music at a high level, and that's exciting.'