Following a 27-minute performance Wednesday evening at the Class 4A state championships, Philomath High School’s 37 band members felt pretty good about what they had just accomplished.
“It was like a euphoric feeling just walking off the stage and just being so happy and the product that we put out,” said percussionist Logan Wade, one of nine seniors with the wind ensemble. “It’s everything that just comes together at this one moment and all of our hard work finally paying off.”
And it did pay off in a big way. For the second straight year, Philomath’s band won the state title.
“One of our goals going in, especially in the warmup room talking about it, is to leave everything on the stage and make sure we’re expressing ourselves and I think we did that,” senior trombone player Jeremy Alston said.
Philomath won the event, staged at LaSells Stewart Center on the campus of Oregon State University, by a fairly good margin of 14 points over runner-up Mazama. Gladstone finished third followed by Molalla in fourth and La Grande and Sisters tied for fifth.
“I felt like we did such a good job but the more important thing is the kids felt like they did a good job and the seniors feel like they did a bang-up job for their final concert and that’s what I wanted,” first-year Performing Arts Director Erica Epperley said. “As long as the kids were happy, I was happy.”
Those comments came just a few minutes before the Oregon School Activities Association officials announced the final results and awarded trophies.
“I think just this year, we kinda became a family, you know?” said sophomore Annalee Hiebert, who plays the flute. “Like it was rough at first with our new director but we got to know each other and I feel like today we were performing as one. We were united and put out the best we could.”
Epperley’s taking over of the program did present an initial hurdle at the beginning of the school year. Dan Johnson, who moved into an administrative position, had directed the band for several years and was on stage last year at this time when PHS took the 4A title.
“At the beginning of the year, again, you’re kinda hitting that wall of I do things differently than the previous director and the kids know it and the kids are trying to adjust to it,” Epperley said. “I think after our first contest of getting qualifying scores, we kinda broke through that wall a little bit and the kids finally realized, ‘you know, maybe she’s OK’ and just started following along.”
Alston said that as the relationship between director and students developed, the exceptional results on stage followed.
“I think it’s incredible how much progress we’ve made going from the very beginning of the year with a brand new director and then going all the way to this with the relationship we’ve built with Mrs. Epperley and the skills we’ve learned and the way we’ve been able to work with her,” Alston said. “It’s almost like we’ve always had her as our band director.”
Each team’s score features points awarded by three judges plus sight reading. It’s the sight reading that can make or break a school at state.
“We did amazing in sight read; we did very good,” Wade said. “We got many compliments from the judge in there and it was just a great experience. We performed in that room — we didn’t just sight read, we made a performance for the judge.”
Each band has 30 minutes for their on-stage performances and Philomath came in with three minutes to spare.
“Being under a time crunch on stage definitely does raise the stress a little bit,” Epperley said. “Sight reading can be stressful as well, but the kids did such a good job. You can be in third place with just your on-stage scores and sight reading will bump you into first.”
Hiebert said the band hit all the right notes.
“There are a few parts that where previously, we had been rushing or not watching our director and then there are some tricky key signatures,” Hiebert said. “I think we got them today.”