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The Iowa High School Music Association’s (IHSMA’s) Jazz Festival presents area jazz bands with one of the most challenging competitions of the year. As one of the first events in the jazz band season, participating ensembles must quickly prepare challenging songs to impress the judges and receive high ratings. This year, the West Liberty High School (WLHS) jazz band received a division one superior rating. An achievement for any school, this award means even more to the WLHS jazz band as they have not earned one since 1996.
To earn their division one superior rating, the WLHS jazz band truly had to show they could skillfully give a jazz concert. After arriving at Assumption High School in Davenport, the group had forty minutes to warm up in the gym. After warming up, the group then moved to the library to perform for a panel of three judges. The band had seventeen minutes to perform three songs, including one swing song. Afterwards, the judges gave them oral feedback and coached the band and their soloists on how to play their pieces even better. Finally, before they left, the WLHS jazz band received their rating, as well as the judges’ ballots that went into creating that rating.
Band Director Ashley Smith felt elated that the band received a first division superior ranking. After not taking the WLHS jazz band to the IHSMA Jazz Festival for several years, she had cautioned them against getting their hopes up too high. After earning such a high ranking, Smith felt incredibly proud of her students and all the progress they have made so far this year.
Smith credits the WLHS jazz band’s high score to their increased practice time and dedication. She explained that this year, “we tripled our rehearsal time . . . . as a result of that, the students who joined jazz band are a lot more committed. . . . no one wants to let the group down.” In addition to lengthening rehearsals, Smith also invited several clinicians, including Dr. Nicolas Enz, saxophone player and Director of Bands at Saint Ambrose University; Dusty Johnson, trumpet player and Band Director at Tipton Middle School; and Steve Stickney, Director of Bands at Mount Mercy University; to rehearse with the jazz band and help them hone specific techniques.
On the heels of their first successful IHSMA Jazz Festival in two decades, the WLHS jazz band looks forward to even more success this season. As they continue to give their music their all, they will keep proving they have gotten back into the swing of performing and can accomplish great things.

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