Up against musicians from Oregon's biggest schools, two Ashland teens took the state championship for their instrument at the OSAA Solo Music Competition, and seven others from Ashland High School qualified.
AHS sophomore Chas Barnard won in cello. Taylor Wood, a sophomore who takes classes through an online charter school and at Southern Oregon University, took the championship in mallet percussion (marimba).
"Chas and Taylor showed an unbelievable level of playing," said AHS Band Director Jon Soderberg-Chase. "It's a professional level."
Two other AHS students placed in the competition, held May 1 at Linfield College in McMinnville: Freshman Alison Dresser took third place in French horn and senior Calynn Jenkins took fourth place in viola. Five AHS students won the district competitions in March to qualify for state, but did not place at the state competition: Ian Wurfle, orchestral snare; Ashley Hoe, violin; Clara Haptonstall, clarinet; Amelia Farber, soprano voice; and Shea Pasche, French horn.
"To have that big a representation for one school is pretty impressive," Soderberg-Chase said. "Especially in strings. The string world is so intense."
Wood admitted she was nervous during the competition, but not overly so.
"I was focused," said Wood, who takes private lessons from Terry Longshore, director of percussion studies at SOU. "As I was playing, I just love what I'm playing and I wasn't really thinking about competition.
"I learned how to deal with the pressure."
Competing musicians warmed up together in the hall outside the performance space, making for an intense experience as they played and listened to each other run through pieces.
"After my performance I felt really good," Barnard said. "Everyone was on high energy."
Barnard moved to Ashland from Ohio in January. He also plays cello with the Rogue Valley Symphony. He's been working with a private music teacher, Tom Stauffer, and credits Stauffer with much of his success.
"He's really helped me grow," Barnard said. "Surprisingly, there are a lot of really good players and good teachers around. He's just amazing."
Barnard recalled a tense moment after his performance waiting with his father as the judges listed the top five players, counting down from fifth place.
"When they got to two, I said, 'Dad, go ahead and turn off the camera,'" he said, assuming he hadn't made the list. "There were just a lot of really good players."
While they missed capturing the moment on video, Barnard will not soon forget the feelings he had when the last name called was his.
"It feels good to come out on top in this kind of competition, but I know I have a lot more work to do," he said.
The time and effort spent to get to this point will pay off later in life for all the young musicians, whatever they end up doing. For Wood, music always will be a part of life, and most likely part of her career, she said.
"I can't see myself doing something that doesn't include music in some way," Wood said.
"I have plans to go to a university for music," Barnard said. "I'm looking at education also."
Because it's a solo competition, there are no divisions based on school size, lumping Ashland students in with much larger schools from the Portland and Eugene areas.
"There were schools from Beaverton that had 20 to 25 kids in the competition," Soderberg-Chase said.
This is Soderberg-Chase's third year teaching music at AHS, and during that time, he's seen the number of students studying music nearly double. About 75 students today are involved in AHS music classes.
The number of students qualifying for the state solo competition has gone up, too, from four or five in previous years to the nine who made it this year.
The students who make it to the highest levels have at least one major advantage in common.
"They all study privately," Soderberg-Chase said. "To achieve this level, that's absolutely necessary. They practice thousands of hours outside of school."
The top students' achievement and dedication also helps inspire other students, Soderberg-Chase said.
"The best leaders are the ones who lead by example," he said. "The other kids are genuinely happy for them."
The state results are satisfying for Soderberg-Chase, who not only teaches music at the high school, but works to hook students up with local mentors.
"Seeing them do this well is such a rewarding experience," he said. "I'm happy not to take credit for it. Whatever instruments my kids want to play I can point them toward two or three local people who can give private lessons."
Myles Murphy is an editor and reporter with the Daily Tidings. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.