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TCCHS musicians earn chairs on district jazz ensemble

Brandon Allen, Brianna Cook, Joshua Stephens, Josh Sharpe, Tommy Piland and Caleb Harrell celebrate their selection to the Georgia Music Educators Association District 2 Jazz Ensemble.

Thomas County Central High School youth musicians hit the perfect notes to earn chairs on the Georgia Music Educators Association District 2 Jazz Ensemble. TCCHS students comprise almost one-third of the 19-member group.

“I am very proud of the accomplishments of our jazz ensemble students,” TCCHS Bands Director Joe Regina said. “They have all worked diligently since the beginning of the school year to prepare for this audition. The success rate that was achieved is a testament to the work ethic of the students. We have a very strong jazz program here. The vast majority of the students who were selected were not even in the jazz ensemble last year, so it's quite an accomplishment.”

Students selected are Josh Sharpe (alto saxophone), Brianna Cook (tenor saxophone), Tommy Piland (trombone), Caleb Harrell (bass trombone), Brandon Allen (trumpet) and Joshua Stephens (bass).

Senior Brianna Cook, 17, auditioned to become a better musician. This try marked her third attempt to make the ensemble.

“I’m a firm believer that ‘third time's the charm,’” she said. “However, I was scared that if I didn't make it, I was failing myself. I practiced a lot, so when I found out I made district, not to mention first chair, I was very proud of myself.”

Jazz is one of Cook’s favorite music genres.

“There's so much interesting history behind it,” she said. “There are things music says that words can't say. I enjoy listening to jazz music, and getting to create jazz music is even better.”

Junior Brandon Allen, 16, has loved jazz since childhood.

“Jazz is filled with so much emotion and really speaks to me,” he said. “Jazz is also really challenging, and I love being forced to further my abilities as a jazz musician.”

Allen is celebrating success and a better audition overall in his second try at district.

“It feels amazing to have made it,” he said. “After my audition last year, I was very disappointed in my score, and I know that I could've done better. After practicing for hours and hours, having all of that hard work finally pay off is a huge relief and a huge confidence boost for me.”

Auditions took place Monday, Oct. 7. Students had to learn and memorize six jazz scales – different from the major scales played to try out for the district’s concert bands – and perform two sight readings.

Preparations took place both in class and at home.

“We practiced scales every day in class,” Cook said. “Each week, it was required we pass off a certain number, if not all, of our scales as a grade. We also sight-read a few pieces each week to prepare us for the sight-reading we might see in the audition room.”

Allen divvied up his time, including mock auditioning.

“If I only had three hours to practice, I would practice scales for one hour, sight-reading for another, and I would finish with everything put together,” he said. “I would do mock auditions for myself and score my playing the way the judges do.”

GEMA District 2 Jazz Ensemble is Feb. 6-7, 2020, at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton. Allen looks forward to improving his improvisation skills while Cook anticipates gaining performance confidence.

These students, in addition to other members of the TCCHS Jazz Ensemble, will perform in this week’s “Sundays at Four” show, part of Thomas University's monthly concert series. Music begins at 4 p.m. in the Thomas County Board of Education Auditorium, located at 200 N. Pinetree Blvd. The Thomas University Jazz Ensemble also will play. Performing with both groups is guest clinician and jazz guitarist Joel Johnson of Albany State University. Admission is free and open to the public.

“We've worked hard to prepare for it, so we hope to see many people there to listen to what we've put together and to support us,” Cook said.

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