Owatonna Arts Center to host concert by middle-school musicians

As has become tradition in Owatonna, the middle school chamber orchestra and jazz band will team up to deliver a concert at the Owatonna Arts Center next month.

This performance, at 2 p.m. April 8, “has been going on since at least the mid-‘80s,” said Joe Zastrow, Owatonna Middle School band director.

It’s also the year’s final, full, public concert for the jazz band.

The jazz band will perform six songs, as “we try to get a couple from each style,” Zastrow said. The set list includes the theme from “The Office,” the familiar “Linus and Lucy” from “Peanuts,” Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk,” Michael Sweeney’s “Been There, Done That,” and “Freddie Freeloader,” a composition by Miles Davis.

“Linus and Lucy” has been “a point of hard work for us, because it’s not an easy piece,” he said. “Blue Moon,” they “are getting pretty well,” even though “it took a little bit of feel.”

Karrin Sackett, a seventh-grade percussionist, is most looking forward to “Freddie Freeloader” and “Linus and Lucy,” she said. “I get to play drum set on both.”

Percussionist Connor de Bruin prefers “Been There, Done That,” he said. “It’s just rock ‘n’ roll.”

“I like ‘Linus and Lucy,’” said Katelynn Paape, an eighth grader in her second year with the OMS jazz band. “It’s a popular song and really fun.”

Paape only auditioned for jazz band because her mother advised her to do so, but she enjoyed it so much that she returned for a second go-round this year, said the percussionist and piano player. “I really liked the music we played, and the people are fun to be around.”

Sackett’s father is a percussionist, and they even play together on occasion, she said. As a percussionist, “I like being the one who helps the band keep the beat.”

“The percussion is the heart of the song,” added de Bruin. “It keeps everything else working.”

Percussion also opens up many avenues for a musician, he said. “You can be in a lot of different bands with percussion.”

Haley Abrahams, a seventh grader who plays piano and percussion, values the sound the jazz band creates when clicking on all cylinders, she said. “It sounds cool when we’re all together.”

De Bruin’s older sister was a member of the jazz band, and when “I saw her concerts, I noticed how awesome everything sounded,” he said. “It’s even more fun than I thought it would be.”

Zastrow actually plays right in the middle of the jazz band, which forces students to “step up,” said the teacher. In order to be effective, “they need to listen, which is really good for a jazz band — we want everyone to be listening.”

Like the jazz band, this middle school chamber orchestra is comprised of students in grades seven and eight who meet weekly before school, said Lisa Revier, music and orchestra teacher at OMS. For the orchestra’s final performance of this year, they’ll play six songs, three of which they executed skillfully at the recent all-city orchestra concert, and three of which have been implemented for this show.

“Japanese Lullaby,” “Central Park Waltz,” and “Windchasers” are more serious, while the three new tunes, “Wabash Cannonball,” “Balloon Ride,” and “Mambo Incognito” are “lighter,” Revier said. “We’re just solidifying tempos, now, adding the final touches—the sparkle.”

Aiden Packard, an eighth-grade cellist, echoed those sentiments, saying, “we’re pretty well prepared.”

“’Mambo Incognito’ could use a bit more work, but I think we’ll get there,” Packard added. “We started that one a little later” than the rest.

It’s also the most challenging of their six songs, because “it has lots of accidentals,” he said. “It’s hard to jump around.”

Revier concurred with Packard’s assessment.

“It has many accidentals” — notes that do not belong to a certain scale or tonality — plus “some Latin rhythm,” she said. “It’s a little quirky.”

As for the group’s favorite song, “I think everybody likes ‘Windchasers,’” said Julia Christenson, who plays viola. “It’s a cool-sounding piece with lots of dynamics.”

“Windchasers” boasts “lots of fast notes, and it’s really entertaining to play,” Packard said. “It does not get boring.”

Packard was already in “regular orchestra,” but he wanted to try “a more adventurous orchestra,” so he joined this ensemble, he explained. “It’s a step up.”

“The songs are interesting and a lot different than what we play in regular orchestra,” added Leah Welker, an eighth-grade violinist. “I like the songs we play.”

Because the musicians in this orchestra voluntarily rise especially early to meet before school, it’s clearly a dedicated group, said Christenson, an eighth grader. “The people here are more passionate about music.”

Christenson chose the viola because of its unique properties, like the fact it “looks like a violin but plays low notes like cello,” she said. “As orchestra progressed, I got more and more into it.”

Welker traces her decision to select violin back to her older sister, who also played the instrument, she said. “Hearing her play made me want to play.”

Packard’s relationship with the cello began in elementary school, when the high school orchestra came to play in his building, he said. “When I was younger, I really liked ‘Star Wars,’ and the cellist played a bit of the ‘Star Wars’ theme song.”

Packard, Christenson, and Welker all want to continue their musical careers as they start high school next year.

“I hope to be in the symphony orchestra,” Packard said. “I think it would be fun to play with a really advanced group.”

The three eighth graders are also looking forward to playing in the arts center, a rare treat.

“I’ve never played there before,” Packard said. “I’ve heard the acoustics are better.”

“The arts center is a really nice space to play in,” Revier said. “Usually, it’s a full house, and we’re surrounded by people, instead of up on a stage.”

The OMS orchestra certainly has gained Paape’s imprimatur, according to the eighth grader. “They always sound amazing when I walk by” their rehearsals.

Reach reporter Ryan Anderson at 507-444-2376 or follow him on Twitter @randerson_ryan.