The Portland Youth Wind Ensemble visits Valor Middle School, providing an opportunity to band students in middle and high school to perform with the greatest in the state

by: JANIS BRENTANO - Larry Johnson conducts the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble at Valor Middle School Wednesday. Dressed in the formal black and white of professional musicians, members of the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble treated Woodburn’s band students to a private concert Wednesday morning.

The 200-member student audience sat in the bleachers of Valor Middle School’s gym in rapt attention at the skillful musicianship of the PYWE.

Then things got JANIS BRENTANO - The Portland Youth Wind Ensemble performed at Valor Middle School Wednesday. The musical group also invited local band members to join them for a few pieces.

It’s not often that beginning musicians have the chance to perform alongside experts but that’s exactly what happened. The entire audience was invited to grab their instruments and sit side-by-side with the best in the state.

It was a morning of dreams and possibility for Woodburn’s band students. Would they be able to match notes with the precision of the elite visiting musicians? Nerves ran high but it was inspirational, educational and perhaps a chance of a lifetime for Woodburn’s music students as they joined the 57-member PYWE to play three pieces under the direction of PYWE conductor Larry Johnson.

“It was scary at first because you think they are going to be better than us because they are professionals. But then you realize you can actually join in,” said Valor eighth-grade clarinet player Maricarmen Ochoa. “It was fun!”

Band students from Valor and French Prairie middle schools, along with 17 Woodburn High School band members, spent the morning absorbing the expert musicianship of the PYWE. The PYWE members performed three pieces and gave a run-through of each instrument group prior to inviting the student audience to join them. Together the massive 250-person band formed a swelling musical crescendo transforming Valor Middle School gym into a virtual concert hall.

Valor Middle School is the only school visit for the PYWE this year, said Johnson. He added that Woodburn was chosen because of the pro-active efforts of Jason Rodgers, Valor’s director of bands and choirs. Rodgers spent the past year arranging the visit.

by: JANIS BRENTANO - A mixed group of Woodburn band students and the Portland Youth Woodwind Ensemble performs at Valor Middle School Wednesday. The ensemble featured both common and unusual instruments, including the 6-foot contrabass clarinet (above, center).“This event is really about giving our students a view of what’s out there in the world in terms of the level of skill that they could aspire to — if they really wanted to put the work in — and really encouraging kids to continue with their music studies at the high school level,” Rodgers said.

The PYWE is one of the premier youth wind ensembles in the Northwest. It is composed primarily of high school and middle school students. Many of these students are also members of the Portland Youth Philharmonic Orchestra or the Portland Youth Conservatory Orchestra.

As Johnson introduced each instrument section he also pointed out some of the ensemble’s more unique instruments like the 6-foot-tall contrabass clarinet and the English horn.

“Articulate! Tah, ha ha ha,” Johnson urged during a quick 15-minute rehearsal with the entire assembly. “If you remember what we just learned, we will all sound great.”

Then Johnson took the group on a full run-through of three pieces.

“Playing music, it’s really special,” Rodgers said. “You get this tingle up and down your spine and you get goose bumps on your arms. When the music is done and you take a deep breath, look at the person next to you and nod your head and know that was awesome. Those are the kinds of experiences that I want my kids to have.”

Tanis Rees, a Valor Middle School sixth-grader and flute player, joined the popular flute section which swelled two rows deep around the conductor.

“It was scary at first,” said Rees about playing with the PYWE. “But then we started playing and it was really fun, really interesting.”

Rodgers hopes the opportunity to play with highly skilled musicians inspires his students to continue playing music and even helps them encourage their non-band friends to join the music program. Unlike other classes that struggle to accommodate large numbers, bands sound better with more students, he said.

“We hope that events like this really make the kids who are in the program love it more,” he said.

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