- Associated Press - Saturday, June 4, 2016

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - What do Oregon’s top high-school orchestra students do while awaiting the results of the OSAA Orchestra State Championships? They rap.

Roughly 50 students from South Salem and McKay high schools crowded into a circle in the courtyard at the LaSells Stewart Center in Corvallis on May 12. They clapped and cheered while one student beatboxed and others took turns rapping in the center of the circle.

Whether they are passing time in rap circle or fearlessly tackling Tchaikovsky’s challenging compositions onstage, these teenagers’ musical skills impress. Their teachers also impress, the Statesman Journal reported (https://stjr.nl/1UfFDaG).

Cole Haole-Valenzuela, South Salem’s string orchestra conductor, stepped into the circle and busted some fresh rhymes. The boundaries between South and McKay disappeared in cheers and laughter.

As Haole-Valenzuela rapped, Beverly Moorehead, South’s assistant orchestra director, said, “It doesn’t matter what school we go to. We all love each other.”

After the rap circle concluded, the students from Oregon’s top 21 high-school orchestras packed into the auditorium for the results. When McKay’s new symphony took third place in the full orchestra competition, the auditorium erupted in applause. When West Salem High School won its third full orchestra championship in four years, the Titans received a standing ovation.

West dominates

In addition to first place in full orchestra, West took second place in the string competition finishing three points shy of Crescent Valley High School of Corvallis.

West’s symphony program was difficult and diverse. The Titans played a conga by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez, a slow and intense lyrical piece by Maurice Ravel and a rousing Berlioz march. They demonstrated their depth of musicianship in Copland’s “Buckaroo Holiday” that was packed with interwoven solos.

“This year it seemed like all the ingredients were there: fabulous brass and percussion with a big string group. We worked hard and long to get that one to where it was,” George Thomson, West’s orchestra director, said. “I’m very proud.”

West senior Hendrik Mobley, cello, was satisfied.

“I don’t think there’s been any year that we’ve worked harder together as a group to achieve this,” Mobley said. “There are a ton of leaders in the symphony and having them all work together to make music in one ensemble is an amazing experience that I will not forget.”

McKay’s symphony debuts in third

When McKay’s symphony took third, the auditorium shook with applause. This was an incredible feat for the first-year symphony conducted by teachers JJ Meyer and Sean Williams.

McKay junior Lexi Welsh, on cello, was shocked and delighted.

“I wasn’t expecting it. I was thinking, ‘We’re not even going to place because it’s our first year. We’re beginners and McKay has a reputation for not placing,’” Welch said. “It was the highlight of my year.”

McKay’s win is more impressive considering the Royal Scots’ string orchestra, directed by Jim Charnholm, opened the day’s competition at 8 a.m. McKay’s strings set the bar high, but finished without a trophy.

The string players had to wait until 6:15 p.m. to perform in the symphony. Students passed time by listening to other orchestras, touring Oregon State University and napping.

After the early morning performance, McKay Senior Jordan Pugh, bass, said the most difficult challenge of the day would be “staying fresh and ready and remembering the sound you have for later.” He would know. Pugh drove to McMinnville to partake in the pole vault at the district’s track and field competition before returning to Corvallis to play in the symphony.

Sprague’s strings takes fourth

Sprague High School, directed by Stephen Nelson, placed fourth in strings.

“I feel satisfied. We did the best we could,” said Michael Vannevel, Sprague sophomore and violinist.

A week earlier Sprague’s band and symphony were disqualified from the championships, because an academically ineligible player had performed at districts in April. Sophomore violinist Nicholas Silver said the news hit the students, especially the seniors, hard.

“The competition is part of the fun of playing, showing what we’ve been working on this year,” Silver said. “We want to show how well we can do.”

North surprises

Because of Sprague’s disqualification, North Salem High School’s symphony, which had qualified but not been selected for one of the six symphony slots at state, found out one week before the championships that they could compete.

“We felt excited and shocked,” North senior, Isaac Ponce, trumpet, said of the news. After North’s performance, he said, “It went really well. The hard work paid off.”

North didn’t receive a trophy but finished strong and received a huge ovation. The top three symphonies received trophies. Because the pool of 15 competing string orchestras was larger, five trophies were awarded in that competition. McNary High School’s string and full orchestras qualified for but were not selected to compete in the championships.

South responds to challenges

South Salem won the full orchestra competition last year and strings the year before. Christopher Noel, South’s orchestra director, resigned for personal reasons in the middle of this school year. Haole-Valenzuela, South’s assistant choir director, stepped up to conduct the strings.

While South did not place, senior Ashton Johnson, concert master, was satisfied.

“We gave our best and that’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “We’ve been able to pull together as a family. How we place doesn’t really matter.”

For Haole-Valenzuela, conducting the strings was “a beautiful experience.”

“The lead into today had a lot to do with the students and how hard they worked. The first day I was in the classroom, I knew they were there for the music and for each other,” Haole-Valenzuela said. “What they will remember is the music that we played, the relationships we made.”

I imagine they will remember Haole-Valenzuela busting rhymes in the rap circle, too.

___

Information from: Statesman Journal, https://www.statesmanjournal.com


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