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COOS BAY — For the first time, the Marshfield High School jazz ensemble is performing at the State Jazz Festival in what the band director called, “A long time coming.”

At 9 a.m. Saturday, May 18, the band of 16 students will perform, realizing a goal they and their director have had for the past three years.

“The kids are ecstatic because we were close last year to receiving state qualifying scores but didn’t,” said Cameron Jerde, Marshfield High School band teacher and director. “This is the culmination of a lot of work and it paid off.”

Chamber and jazz ensembles are “governed,” as Jerde described it, by the Oregon Music Education Association just as big concert bands and choir are organized under the Oregon School Activities Association.

For OMEA, this is only the third year it has put on the State Jazz Festival. The MHS jazz ensemble has performed at a number of competitions this year, finally earning the needed qualifying scores to be part of the festival this weekend. Jerde said that they submitted those scores to the tape pool and got accepted for the “first time in school history.”

But getting his students to the level required to make this happen, he focused his teaching more on quality rather than quantity.

When he started his job at MHS three years ago, he observed that the students were playing a lot but weren’t paying attention to whether they played rhythms or articulations correctly, Jerde said.

“They want to play lots and lots of music,” he said. “They love to play and that’s understandable because they are kids. They hate it when they aren’t playing in class.”

But to refocus them, he taught them how to read music or had some students listen to the music to know how it sounds.

“We’ve worked on specific jazz styles like big band swing from the World War II era, fast-paced bebop from the ‘50s and ‘60s, Latin jazz, and funk and rock jazz fusion styles,” he said.

The MHS jazz ensemble is scheduled to perform first this weekend, which will be attended by bands from 1A to 6A, and Jerde hopes his students hear the Portland metro area and Salem bands perform to see what other schools are doing.

“They will have a chance to hear what some really fantastic high school bands do,” he said. “It’ll get them out of the Coos Bay and North Bend bubble and open their eyes as to what else is going on in Oregon and hopefully inspire them to reach higher than what we’re doing.”

Though Jerde and the band reached their goal to perform at the festival, it doesn’t mean that will be the goal next year necessarily. In fact, 14 members of the band are graduating seniors and those replacing them will be younger and less experienced.

“I think it’s important for the kids to remember that just because the band the year before did something, doesn’t mean the next band will do the same thing,” he said. “For the jazz band, our goal is to continue to get kids involved and teach them to play the jazz style, and to continue growing both in size and in quality.”

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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