In Denver last Sunday, just a few minutes before the Rockies started playing against the Seattle Mariners, 26 Durango High School students stood in the middle of Coors Field, determined to deliver a home-run performance. Their palms were sweaty, but there wasn’t a baseball bat in sight. Instead, they clutched flutes, saxophones, drumsticks and trombones.
They performed the national anthem, and they knocked it out of the park, said Katharine Reed, director of the high school’s music program.
For most high school music students, being invited to perform the national anthem at Coors Field might rank among life’s greatest honors.
But to DHS music students – who have consistently won top honors at major music competitions throughout the state – the event simply placed an exclamation point at the end of a remarkable year.
First, Max Kelly, a senior percussionist, successfully auditioned for the Western Slope Honor Jazz Band in January.
“He was the first student from DHS to make it in years,” said Reed.
Then, at the University of Northern Colorado Greeley Jazz Festival in April, Durango’s Jazz Band garnered a rating of “I” – the highest possible score – and James Triola, a senior guitarist and drum major, received the “outstanding soloist award.”
Days later at the CHSSA Southwestern Instrumental Large Group Festival in Cortez, the Concert Band received a “II” rating, which marked them an ensemble in Colorado.
In May at “Music in the Park,” a prestigious festival in Denver, it won first place in its class and was singled out as the “Most Outstanding Concert Band” overall – as was DHS’s Jazz Band.
Reed said the music program’s biggest victory came just three weeks ago at the Cañon City Music & Blossom Festival, where the Symphonic Orchestra competed against 43 schools from across Colorado – the largest, most vigorous and storied such competition in the state.
Mike Nolan, director of the festival’s competition, said nine schools received a score of “I.”
DHS’s Symphony Orchestra received a score of I+.
“The judges were extremely impressed,” Nolan said. “They look for a lot of things – how well the school plays, whether they’re in tune, the balance of the orchestra, the style of music. To get an I, you have to do all those things extremely well. A I+? Nobody gets that score.”
Reed agreed: “That score is unheard of.”
Though this is only Reed’s first year directing music at DHS, she attributed the music program’s ascendance to hard work, talent and leadership.
“They practiced every school day for 70 minutes. Going to contests, they improved their scores 20 points from the time the Marching Band season started,” said Reed.
“In our ensembles, it’s a very interesting mix of abilities. In the orchestra, there are some kids who have been taking private music lessons for 10 years, who are going to college to study music. Then there are some very passionate freshmen and sophomores. But we’ve got really great leadership in the band.”
Reed pointed to JR Smith, a senior violinist who composes and arranges music.
“Two weeks ago, he arranged a piece for us according to our strengths and weaknesses. When it was played in public, he got a standing ovation,” said Reed.