On any given morning, you can walk through the doors of Mid-Prairie High School and hear some upbeat jazz music drifting down the hallways.
It becomes quickly apparent that this is not some funky school Muzak playing. It’s the Southeast Iowa Jazz Contest champion Golden Hawk jazz band rehearsing.
“It takes a tremendous amount of dedication,” band director David Kunz said. “We practice every week at least twice a week, early in the morning.”
You step into the band room, just around the corner from the high school office, and the young musicians are already warmed up and in the middle of a piece they are fine-tuning for the April 7 Iowa Jazz Championships at Iowa State University in Ames, which have since been canceled.
Kunz is bouncing around the different instrument sections, getting a close listen to the parts they are playing. He knows what the judges will be listening for.
“They’re listening for all the basics – does the band play in great tone, do they play in tune, does the rhythm section play in really good time, do they keep the beat and the tempo solid for the entire song?” Kunz said. “That’s a huge part of jazz. Can the rhythm dominate time and provide clear time that propels the band?”
Musicians take turns making their way to the front of the band for their turn with solos, another important component of the competition.
“This is a jazz competition, so they’re looking for really good improvisation,” Kunz said. “They’re looking for authentic improvisation and creativity.”
The band qualified for the Iowa Jazz Championships for the third year in a row after taking first place at the Southeast Iowa District Jazz Contest at Iowa City West High School on March 7.
This year’s band is made up of a combination of veteran and young musicians who starting playing together in late October.
“We have a very young rhythm section, and they have come a long ways,” Kunz said. “We have a lot of veteran players who have played very well.
“This band has really worked a lot and rehearsed a lot. They have improved tremendously, so I’m very proud of them.”
Members of the band include seniors Tristan Novy, Marina Richardson, Levi Stultz and Jarrod Keller; juniors Natali Miller, Ana Fleming, Chelsea Cragmile, Cooper Thomas, Elizabeth Meader, Eryk Hovde and Gavin Frascht; sophomores Olivia Caskey and Terra Richardson; and freshmen Emily Righter, Noah Frede, Irman Ganibegovic, Andrew Stultz and Mose Yoder.
Kunz said he believes having veteran musicians will help the whole band at the state contest.
“We’ve gone to some competitions, so we’ve been competing against the best bands in 2A,” he said. “The competition is really tough, but I feel more prepared because they have experienced what those bands are like.”
Reaching this point takes a lot of dedication.
“These guys are basically practicing, one way or another, at least five days a week,” Kunz said. “There are lots of weekends going to competitions.
“They’ve worked really hard and have accomplished a lot. From where we started, we’ve come very far.”