TCCHS’ Thomas earns seat on GMEA All-State Jazz Ensemble; Loper named alternate

Morgan and Tessa

Two Thomas County Central High School youth musicians impressed the Georgia Music Educators Association with their skills, receiving a seat and an alternate position on the 2022 GMEA All-State Jazz Ensemble. Junior Tessa Thomas earned the single seat for vibraphone players. Junior Morgan Loper received the alternate position on piano, which means that, if the student selected cannot attend, Loper takes their place.

Joe Regina, TCCHS bands program director, said both students practiced tirelessly for their virtual auditions, and he’s proud of their accomplishments.

“It's very prestigious to be selected, even as an alternate, for the [GMEA] All-State Jazz Ensemble which is only composed of a total of 20 students statewide,” Regina said. “In fact, there is only one piano player and one vibraphone player selected from the entire state. The competition is fierce, and I'm extremely proud of both of them for their hard work and determination.”

Thomas calls earning a seat on the GMEA All-State Jazz Band an honor.

“Music has been a huge part of my life ever since I was a kid, and I view this as a great opportunity to learn more about it,” she said.

The youth musician, 16, has five years as a percussionist and two years playing vibraphone in her musical repertoire. However, music is a Thomas family tradition.

“When I was young, my father was a band director, and both of my brothers were in band,” she said. “At the time, I really looked up to my oldest brother, and he would practice in the mornings while I was around with my dad. He would teach me some of the basics of mallets and the names of the different percussion instruments. Since then, I always was attached to percussion, specifically keyboard instruments.”

Loper, a pianist for 10 years, only recently began playing jazz piano.

“For the past nine years, I've been a strictly classical pianist,” she said. “... It’s just a way for me to express my creativity, and it serves as my passion. I play other instruments, but piano's always been my first love. It's my instrument because I've formed a great relationship with it and music as a whole entity.”

To audition, Thomas completed two sight readings (a selection the student has not seen before and must play unrehearsed) and two practiced pieces.

“There is no real way to perfect something unless you do it over and over again, and that's exactly what I did for these auditions,” she said. “Every morning and most afternoons I would repeatedly run my etudes, fixing small details here and there and making it second nature to play.”

Loper prepared for her audition by focusing and breaking down elements into smaller pieces.

“For a musician, that's one of the best ways you can practice and make sure that everything is perfect,” she said. “I also paid a lot of attention to smaller details, such as articulations and fingerings for different notes, and I had to work a lot with improvising and understanding the theory behind it.”

The audition preparation process was a learning one for Loper, who said gaining this knowledge paid off. She’s glad to have the experience.

“I was also nominated for Governor's Honors Program in classical piano, so these two competitions have really helped with auditioning skills and have given me experience for college auditions,” Loper said. “I am super grateful for these opportunities, and I hope to make the jazz ensemble next year.”

Both students are juniors, which means they have the chance to audition again their senior year, Regina adds.

“I'm very excited to see what the future holds for both of these talented kids,” he said.

GMEA All-State Jazz Ensemble occurs during the Georgia Music Educators Association conference in Athens Jan. 27-29.

“I am most excited to just take in the experience,” Thomas said of the upcoming trip. “Playing and meeting with the top people around the state, being exposed to new music and techniques—it is bound to be very fun and very educational.”

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