If Mazama High School’s band was a sports team, their journey to the OSAA State 4A Band Championships would be a story of the underdog with a come-from-behind victory.
Six weeks ago, they didn’t expect to even qualify for the state competition stage, and band members and their director agreed: “We weren’t very good.”
Mazama’s concert season started with a bus breakdown in March that left the student musicians stranded for a few hours near Eagle Point. It ended May 12 with an emergency room visit, celebratory tears, and a second-place OSAA State Championship trophy.
Mazama placed second behind Gladstone among 4A bands at the May competition in Corvallis. One of their four performance pieces was appropriately titled “Mazama” by Jay Chattaway, depicting the eruption of Mt. Mazama, which formed Crater Lake.
“I am proud of them. It was a really good performance,” said Mazama Band Director Rob Izzett. “I had told them: ‘If everybody does all the things we’ve done right in class, if it all happens at the same time, really good things will happen.’ And really good things happened.”
During the competition, the band’s only tuba player performed with the band on stage, but as the sight-reading portion ended, he fell ill. He was assessed by paramedics and transported by ambulance to the emergency room, where Izzett met him. The two celebrated together when they got the news of their band’s second-place finish. The student was diagnosed with a viral infection and has since recovered.
Mazama senior Erin Donahue has played clarinet since sixth-grade and was the only band member who had ever performed at state before.
“It felt really good. I had so many emotions,” she said after winning the trophy. “It represents a lot of really hard work, a lot of individual work.”
Overall, nearly 200 public and private high schools from around the state competed at the event. In the 4A category, only seven high school bands had high enough scores to qualify. Those seven included the bands from Mazama and Henley high schools. Henley also did well, placing sixth overall. The top four bands get trophies.
This fall, Mazama’s band, like many around the state, began rebuilding after two years of COVID-19 restrictions, distance learning, and hybrid courses. Only 38 musicians remained in a band program that in 2019 had more than 60 students divided between concert and symphonic bands. That year, Mazama’s symphonic band took second at the state championships. Because of COVID-19, there was no state competition in 2020 or 2021.
Since there were only enough students to form one band, this year every student had to put in the work necessary to master performance-level music. Izzett recruited students to play instruments they had never played before to fill in needed parts.
“Between us, we would say, ‘This band is made up of chicken wire and bubble gum.’ We were just cobbling and gluing things together,” said Lauryn McCroskey, the band’s percussion coach. “We had people playing out of their normal positions.”
Junior Kavin Hagge, the tuba player who ended up celebrating with his band director in the emergency room, had never played in band before this year. A violin player, Kavin decided to try out for band at the end of last year. When he nailed a difficult note on the tuba, Izzett sent the instrument home with him so he could learn how to play it over the summer.
And he did. As the only tuba player, he didn’t want to let the band down during the state competition. “He was determined to keep playing and pull through for his team,” said his mother, Brenda Hagge.
“He played fabulous,” McCroskey said. “We’d never heard him play that well and he was sick. It was incredible.”
As the season progressed, student musicians took responsibility for their parts, coming in during the school’s daily tutorial period and meeting after school to work on specific pieces of music.
Erin Donahue’s clarinet section met every Monday for more than a month to practice and fine-tune difficult parts of the music. Senior Seth Wright, a trombone player, learned a new instrument – the euphonium – for this year’s performance season. Senior trumpet players Jaydon McVey and Bradley Hayden led their section in extra practices as well.
“They were putting in the time,” Izzett said “Some were there every day. The atmosphere, it dialed in like that. They started to grow up.”
“It started with the big (bus) breakdown,” McCroskey said. “It ended with Kavin in the hospital and taking second-place. It was kind of a dramatic year.”