John Bapst’s Jazz Band rocked the state competition with its first-ever Division III win at the annual Maine Music Educators High School Instrumental Jazz Festival on Saturday, March 27 at South Portland High School. Some 1,100 student musicians from forty high schools throughout the state took to the stage during the two-day competition, with nine schools—three from each of three divisions—competing in the finals.
The Bangor independent school’s jazz combo featured a smaller group of musicians and focused on more on improvisation than big band play. The combo, led by senior trumpeter Dan Honeycutt from Glenburn, sophomore clarinetist Olivia Cohen from Brewer, senior trumpeter Lucas Hubbard from Holden, senior trombonist Kate Fogler from Orrington, and sophomore pianist Charlie Volkwein from Surry, won a gold award on Friday night by scoring an 88 or higher. Two of the five most valuable player awards in Division III went to John Bapst students Hubbard and Fogler.
John Bapst Director of Fine Arts Al McIntyre led the school’s effort and remarked that the jazz band’s first place achievement was remarkable. “It really is an amazing accomplishment given all the variables involved in making it to that level.”
To qualify for the state competition, bands first compete in their home district. John Bapst competed in the District 5 competition in Dexter in February. “At Dexter, we scored a 95—the highest score our musicians have ever gotten,” said McIntyre. “That fueled these kids to practice for the next month to play to their highest potential. They rehearsed every day before, during, and after school between the district competition and the state.”
At the state level, all bands perform in the morning then attend the awards ceremony in the late afternoon. “At the ceremony bands find out whether they scored a rating of 1, which means an 88 or better,” said McIntyre. “Nine bands received a 1 rating, and all of us were vying for those three spots in the finals.”
“We went into competition just hoping to get a 1,” said senior Kate Fogler. “After getting a 1, we were just hoping to get to the finals. After getting into the finals we decided we’d be happy if we got third. Amazingly, we got first.”
When asked to what she attributed this surprising feat, Fogler said, “Practice, practice, practice.” Fogler, who has played some kind of musical instrument since she was in kindergarten, began playing jazz trumpet in 5th grade and volunteered to play the trombone in 8th grade because her middle school needed someone to play the instrument.
Senior Lucas Hubbard noted the high quality of all of the jazz bands competing. “The other bands were great. And really, there were so many good bands from other schools that didn’t qualify.” He credited Bill Whitener, his trumpet teacher of six years and principal trumpet player for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, and McIntyre for playing a huge part in their win. “He kept us focused on our goal. He didn’t let up after we scored so highly at Districts. He picked fantastic set-up songs for us to play which really helped us to show our potential. The high degree of difficulty was impressive to the judges.”
The judges were not the only ones who were impressed. McIntyre, who has taught in the music program at John Bapst for 26 years, described the response from the crowd after their performance in the finals. “The auditorium in South Portland High School was packed. At the end of the last tune we received a standing ovation. These are the state’s best jazz musicians watching their competition. It was such an incredible validation to see our kids appreciated by their peers in that way. As a teacher you can’t ask for anything more.”