The River East Collegiate jazz program is playing a happy tune these days.
The program which is led by teacher Jeff Kula and includes both a 52-member band and a jazz orchestra of 16 members, was honoured at the 38th Annual Optimist International Band Festival in March.
The program received the Jazz Award sponsored by Crozier, Kilgour and Partners for exemplary performance, mature on-and off-stage presence, responsiveness to the clinic, Kula’s commitment to the festival, and the development of an outstanding jazz program.
Kula, who has helped the band to the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival in New York City five times since 2003, spread the credit for the achievement.
"It’s something that’s community-based," said Kula. "We’ve had many talented students come through this program, which is the history and tradition which goes into it as well."
Current members of the band were thrilled to receive the boost.
"It was a big honour for them to have chosen our band," said Abby Ziprick, who plays alto saxophone.
"It was really rewarding to be recognized for our hard work," added Emily Hodge, a tenor sax player.
At the festival, the group received the opportunity to work with visiting college instructors throughout the festival, including Ron Carter from Northern Illinois University, with whom the band had also worked earlier this year.
Kula appreciates the chance to use the festival as a musical meeting of the minds with teachers from over Canada.
"You get a chance to share repertoire, as well, and pick other people’s brains about what you’ve been working on," said Kula. "Besides sharing performances, you’re also sharing knowledge. It’s a chance for directors to do some collaborating, because we often work in isolation in our schools."
French horn player Tyson Reimer explained that attending the festival pushes attendees to become better musicians.
"It’s always a celebration of what you’ve achieved and what others have achieved, too," said Reimer. "You’re comparing yourself, but not in a competitive fashion."
Ziprick and Hodge will attend Brandon University’s music program beginning in the fall, as they hope to make a career out of music education.
Reimer, meanwhile, has another year to decide on his direction as he is currently in Grade 11. However, he is also considering pursuing music. He has proven his mettle, as he will be a part of the National Youth Band this summer when it trains in Sackville, N.B. and Halifax, N.S.
"You get to perform with the highest-calibre musicians from across Canada," said Reimer, who was also a member of the group when it trained in Winnipeg last summer. "It’s really interesting to see both the identities that exist across Canada and to perform a high level of music with people who share your passion."