Top in the Nation
Henley High School senior and percussionist Brian Ekstrom has earned a coveted spot in the National Association for Music Education All-National Honor Ensembles, and in November will travel to Florida to perform under the leadership of top conductors in the field.
NAfME each year chooses the best high school musicians nationwide for its six ensembles. Ekstrom auditioned in April for a spot in the All-National Honor Band, sending in videos of himself playing different percussion instruments – snare drum, mallet percussion, and timpani. He also sent an additional video of one of the solos he played at the state competition last spring.
“I was so excited,” he said about finding out he was chosen for one of seven percussion spots. “It was one of the most rewarding feelings I think I’ve felt in a long time. It was crazy tough to get in.”
Ekstrom knows firsthand how competitive the process is. He auditioned in previous years – and was turned down twice – before auditioning for the third time last spring and being awarded a spot.
“It’s really nice to be able to participate, especially since it’s my senior year,” he said.
Henley High School band director Katy Garvin wasn’t surprised that Ekstrom was accepted to the NAfME All-National Honor Band, and she said he will represent Henley with a high level of excellence and professionalism.
“When I watch Brian play percussion, it is obvious that it brings him pure joy. …. He constantly pushes himself to not only have exceptional technique but to achieve a high level of musicianship,” she said. “Brian is truly an exceptional musician and he deserves this experience.”
Ekstrom worked all summer to raise money to pay for the trip, and he’ll get music ahead of time so he can prepare for the November concert. The concert band performance, he said, will be a celebration of American culture and music.
“It’s just very patriotic, very rich. It’s going to be really beautiful.”
Ekstrom is among nearly 700 musicians who will perform with the honor ensembles. Of those, only a handful are from Oregon. The ensembles include concert band, symphony orchestra, jazz, mixed choir, guitar, and modern band.
Performances will be Nov. 9 and 10 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. The Henley senior has played percussion since the sixth-grade when he was introduced to the instruments at his school in Oklahoma. The family moved to Klamath Falls a year later, and he has been a member of the Henley band since seventh-grade. He credits his success to his current band director, Katy Garvin, and his former band director, John Bridges, who was Ekstrom’s teacher in his middle school and early high school years. Bridges is now band director at Springfield High School.
Ekstrom’s ongoing efforts are what helped him become a top percussionist.“I don’t practice until I get it right, I practice until I can’t get it wrong,” he explained. “I don’t just stop at getting it right. I stop at making sure that I can’t get it wrong the next time I play it. That’s how I approach it, and I think it really worked out for me.”
A percussionist plays a variety of concert instruments including snare drum, xylophone, timpani, triangle, and Ekstrom’s favorite, the marimba. A marimba is similar to a xylophone, but the bars are made of wood.
The Henley senior’s future likely includes a career in music. He plans to attend college to study percussion performance and music education.
“Music has always been a way for me to kind of put myself out there,” he said, “a place to communicate with other people. … It’s such a meaningful outlet of expression. It means a lot to me that there’s something that I can put as much passion as I do into it. That’s why I love music.”