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Senior dazzles with French horn

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Savanah Campbell with the French horn she played that won her first place in Oregon among high school French horn players in the Oregon School Activities Association competition. Savanah Campbell, the best high school French horn player in the state, admits that when she first started playing the difficult instrument, she wanted to quit.

“I had to pick an instrument for fifth grade band at Damascus Middle School,” Campbell recalled. “I wanted to play the saxophone, but (band teacher) Mr. Evans said ‘we have too many saxes. Pick something else.’ I liked the way the French horn looked. But, I didn’t realize how hard it was. I almost quit. It was way too hard as a fifth grader.”

But, she stuck with it, taking private lessons at first from a Barlow High School student and then moving on to two local professional teachers. That persistence paid off.

The soon-to-be senior took first place in solo for the French horn in the Oregon School Activities Association Solo Championship this spring. She placed first out of about 20 French horn players from around the state.

Campbell also was recognized at a recent Gresham-Barlow school board meeting. The recognition noted that “along with her accompanist, Becky Simmons, Savanah presented an inspiring performance of Gordon Jacobs Concerto for French horn; a truly rewarding finish to months of hard work on this very challenging piece.”

One of her private teachers, Sarah Hemphill, from Troutdale, calls Campbell “a joy to teach.” Hemphill said Campbell is “very passionate about her music and an incredibly hard worker.”

Not surprisingly, her parents are proud as punch.

“We are so happy she is doing so well,” mom, Kristin, said. “She works really hard and she is very humble.”

Campbell is looking forward to a summer master class with Grammy-winning William Purvis, a renowned French horn player, conductor and educator, currently teaching at Yale School of Music.

Campbell is first chair in the award-winning Barlow High School Symphonic Band. Barlow’s Symphonic Band was rated second in the state this year in the OSAA competitions.

The Barlow band has excellent musicians and Campbell attributes some of that to the leadership of band director Paul Nickolas.

“He is super dedicated to the band program,” she said. “He really encourages us. He comes to all our competitions. He inspires students to become better.”

Barlow’s Nickolas praised Campbell for being “ferociously committed to her instrument” and noted that she takes two private lessons per week. OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Barlow band director Paul Nickolas said Campbell is 'ferociously committed to her instrument.'

Campbell has been in the prestigious Portland Youth Philharmonic since eighth grade. She’s moved steadily through the levels of bands to the premier PYP Orchestra.

“When I reached the orchestra level, it was really eye-opening to play with an orchestra with all those strings,” Campbell said. “It helped me with confidence, it made me a more confident player.”

She also enjoys the camaraderie of the large PYP orchestra, saying, “In the French horn section, we’re all friends and we push each other. All of us are around the same age, but we come from different band programs from around town and we all learn from each other.”

PYP, she said, “is just like a big family.”

Nickolas said Campbell herself is “very welcoming to her peers and younger players. She’s eager to jump in wherever she is needed.” Because “she creates a supportive atmosphere for other players and enables other students to be better” she has been elected as Barlow band council president for the upcoming school year.

Campbell also participates in the Oregon Ambassadors of Music program, which takes high school musicians on tours of Europe.

“It was really cool,” she said of her European trip. The band played “a lot of American music” including “The Star Spangled Banner” and several marches, she said.

Campbell has played in the yearly All-State band and every other year, in the six-state All Northwest band organized by The Oregon Music Education Association. She was principal French horn in the highest level orchestra in All Northwest her sophomore year and plans to audition for the All Northwest again during her upcoming senior year.

“I take a lot of pride in my musicianship and my musicality. I always try to tell a story through music, not just play notes,” Campbell said.

Teacher Hemphill agrees. “She is very musical. She expresses herself well in the music.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Campbell explains how the complicated instrument makes such beautiful music. Campbell, who has a 3.95 grade point average, is in the National Honor Society and has been on the Barlow swim team and played water polo last year. She’s taking two classes at Mt. Hood Community College over the summer.

She practices the French horn about two hours a day and said, despite her other activities, “Music is it for me,” she said.

Her brother is the only other member of the Campbell household that is musical. Her dad, Steve, is the director of Community Service and Public Safety for Happy Valley. Her mother, Kristin, is an educational assistant at Powell Valley Elementary School. Her younger brother plays trumpet in the Barlow band.

Campbell loves classical music, but she listens to a lot of rock, such as indie rock bands fun, Børns and Matt and Kim. She also plays a bit of ukulele.

Campbell said she is passionate about reading and writing. She’s not sure about her plans for college or for a major. She said she would love to combine her music and writing skills. She is inspired by that combination in musical theatre and especially admires Lin-Manuel Miranda’s, “Hamilton” and “In the Heights” and would be thrilled to be able to follow that path.

To borrow a line from “Hamilton:” There’s a million things she hasn’t done, just you wait.