By Nancy Covert
Waking up on a chilly morning to the sounds of lively jazz may not be everyone’s idea of the ideal wake-up call‚Ä¶but it’s something that happens at Steilacoom High School — not only in December but year around when school’s in session.
It’s 6:30 on a recent Wednesday morning, and in one classroom at Steilacoom High School, the sounds of “In the Mood” had replaced the rooster’s “cock-a-doodle-doo” as about two dozen student musicians showed up for the early morning jazz ensemble rehearsal.
The melodic sounds are so much a change from some old alarm clock, that one construction worker (who’d been working on the high school since the renovation project began in 2007) commented about how enjoyable the sound of live music is as a day starter.
Compliments such as that are music to Bruce Folmer’s ears — and well deserved — since Mr. Folmer has developed a strong program at the school since District Superintendent, Dr. Art Himmler invited him to teach at Steilacoom High School. At that time Mr. Folmer was teaching at neighboring Lakes High School,
Still, Bruce liked the offer and said, “It’s the best decision I never made.” He added that it was his family’s decision; his son was at that time a sophomore at SHS.
Building the local program was a challenge. He transferred from a program where more than 200 students were enrolled, compared with the 15 eager musicians who greeted him when he began with SHSD. It’s the rapport he’s developed with the students since then that has contributed to the program’s success.
“Mr. Folmer’s just like another kid with us. When someone tells a joke, Mr. Folmer usually laughs along with us,” said bass guitarist Jordan Owings.
Shortly after arriving, Folmer began the jazz ensemble program. As a result, about two dozen jazz musicians show up for the twice-a-week early morning sessions. The early morning scene can be described as a literal game of musical chairs, since once the senior players end their half-hour session, the junior members slide onto the already-warmed seats.
Keyboardist Michael Clark is one of the seat warmers. He’s been playing piano since first grade, and he says it’s like being “part of an athletic team.” He doesn’t mind the early morning hours. “We want to be there because we love music, besides, Mr. Folmer gets there even earlier.”
Adept at other styles of music, the ensemble players agree that Jazz is their favorite style. Furthermore, they all agree that “Mr. Folmer is a really good director.”
During the early morning hours, they play funk and honky tonk. While the Jazz Ensemble plays music of ‘all genres,’ that span jazz music history from the 40s to the present, such as Coltrane, Corea, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman. Mr. Folmer says they “don’t particularly care for New Orleans’ style jazz.”
That’s an odd observation, though, since anyone who attended the 2007 New Orleans Jazz Night dinner at SHS thought that they sounded pretty good.
Although undecided about which school he’ll attend, after graduation, Michael says he wants to major in piano education and composition. Ultimately this keyboardist, who’s favorite tune is “Harlem Nocturne,” aims for a career in performance and maybe someday in film composition.
Throughout the year, both junior and senior ensembles perform at quarterly community concerts such as the winter and spring events. And although they don’t often “go on the road” a couple favorite venues have become the annual February trip to Moscow, Idaho, for the Lionel Hampton Jazz, and the spring trip to Disneyland.
Each February the musicians spend a weekend with thousands of jazz musicians, at an event billed as the largest festival of its kind in the world. The Disneyland trip enables them to take part in a recording session where their music is the background for an animated film.
This past spring, SHSD received special recognition from the Inter Mountain Music League in honor of its support of music programs.
Most of Ensemble musicians have about six years’ playing experience.
Owings, who plans to be a dentist after graduation, is another of the experienced players. He, along with Ben McBreide and Noel LeRoy formed a trio that “jams a lot at each others’ homes, and plays at summer gigs.”
Freshman drummer Max Schenck who’s part of a group called “Exit 118” is another player in the early morning gang. The “directional name” refers to the DuPont/Northwest Landing I-5 Freeway Exit. The group, which entertained at this past August’s Middle School opening festivities, has been in existence, Schenck says, “for about two years.”
Rehearsals for “118” are usually held on Sunday afternoons in the Schencks’ dining room. Currently, they’re seeking a new lead guitarist since the original guitarist “moved to Hawaii.”
Although they’re not ready to make a record, Schenck says that they did make a trial CD, entitled, “Why I Even Tried.” It’s listed on MySpace, he added.
As is the case with his students, Mr. Folmer is especially grateful for the expanded practice space, both at the high school and at DuPont/Northwest Landing’s new middle school.
Like a proud homeowner, before beginning rehearsal, he conducts a visitor on a quick tour of the facilities, pointing out the expanded instrument storage space and the practice rooms. Then he picks up his well-tempered silver trumpet and melds into a spot in the back row for an energetic rendition of “Spain.”
During a later Wednesday morning practice session, the ensemble is rehearsing a samba — “sure to be a hit with all their moms,” Folmer predicts as he pauses before returning to the order of the day.
Note: Matt Stillings-Ziegenfelder, an 8th grade clarinetist from Pioneer Middle School, has been selected to participate in the Junior All-State West Band. Matt is 1st chair in the 8th grade Symphonic Band and also plays in the Jazz Ensemble.
He is the first student from Pioneer to be selected to perform in the Junior All-State West Band. The Junior All-State band is in its fourth year of existence. Matt will rehearse with the band on March 14, and perform that evening at the Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien.