by Becky GINOS
FARMINGTON—The Farmington Junior High Jazz Band has spent countless hours of practice to perfect their skill and now it has paid off. The ensemble was selected as the only junior high band to attend the Midwest Clinic, a prestigious convention in Chicago, Ill. to be held in December.
“It’s an enormous accomplishment,” said Band Director Heath Wolf. “We were competing against others worldwide. We had to submit audio, video, programs from the past and letters of recommendation. It was pretty extensive.”
Wolf said the audition process takes four rounds. “They do two blind rounds where they just listen. If you make it to the third round they look at the packet,” he said. “They usually only take one junior high band.”
The clinic brings 18,000 to 20,000 music teachers from all over the world, Wolf said. “They’ll be playing for the most critical audience they could ever play for.”
It’s bittersweet for Wolf because the band that qualified won’t be the same group going in December. “I say goodbye to them in May and start over training a new group in the fall. But we have to prove we’re not just a one hit wonder.”
Farmington Junior has been producing quality, award-winning bands for several years. Wolf attributes their success to students who are committed to music. “These are elective classes so the kids are choosing to be here,” he said. “I teach them then get them to master it. We have fun but I’m pretty intense.”
Depending on physical coordination it may take one kid a day or another two weeks. “That’s OK,” said Wolf. “We’re going to work until we get it. I tell them failure is not a bad thing, it is a step toward success. Groups at this age usually don’t play at really high levels but they come to my level of expectation – I don’t fall to theirs.”
It’s not uncommon for high achieving kids to end up in music, he said. “But you don’t have to be a super star. I have students with special needs and the majority of the ensemble is made up of average kids,” said Wolf. “It’s important for them to be part of a group and have a home.”
Wolf’s bands have won national awards such as the John Phillips Sousa Foundation Sudler Cup in 2011 and the National Band Association Blue Ribbon Award of Excellence last year. They were the only junior high band west of the Mississippi to achieve those honors.
“I was lucky enough when I was a student to be in groups like this,” Wolf said. “It motivated me to progress beyond what I could do. I have no desire to be average. I’ll do anything to motivate them (students). We’ve tried out for things before and didn’t make it but that was great because we worked hard and we can work even harder to improve.”
Wolf said it’s more fun to play at a high level of music but it’s not about the competition. “I don’t want to muddle by, we need to push ourselves to see what we can do.”
The band is by far the biggest organization at the school, he said, with some 350 kids enrolled. “Students will sign up for beginning band but by the end of the year we realize it’s not working,” he said. “Too much squeeze and not enough juice. I have zero problem if it’s not their thing. I’ll do everything I can to help a kid if they’re doing everything they can – I’ll get them through.”
Ironically Wolf’s wife is also a band director at Central Davis Junior High. “She used to teach here with me,” he said. “She took over there and within five years they played at state and blew it away. The program was on its deathbed and she turned it into one of the best in the state. We’re a team. It’s kind of unique we do it together.”
Wolf said the administration and community are so supportive. “Farmington is just fabulous and the administration just says ‘go for it,’” he said. “The principal sees the vision of what this does for kids. He knows what it’s about that they’ve got to do these things – it’s good for them.”