This class swings

By: Susan Belknap, Placer Herald Editor
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Walking by the band room at Whitney High School, you’d expect to hear music. But those who visit on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons might be surprised to hear the sounds of the big band era of the 1930s and ’40s. Welcome to the school’s jazz band class where about 20 Whitney students, freshmen through seniors, are tapping their toes and pumping out the sounds of swing music. Whitney senior Jamez Dahl, 18, is the piano player for the group that recently provided music for the annual Rocklin Chamber of Com-merce Business Excellence Awards dinner. “I’ve been playing piano since I was 3,” Dahl said. “I’ve always liked jazz. I like it because it’s fun to dance to and fun to listen to.” Kris Harper, director of music for Whitney agrees. “Swing (music) is the class favorite,” he said. Troy Bowser, 16, is another jazz band member. Bowser has been playing the trombone for five years and this is his first year in the jazz group. “I really like the music we play. It’s relaxed and it’s different than what we play in symphonic band,” Bowser said. But for Harper, conducting the jazz band is just a part of his day. He is also in charge of the school’s choir, the marching band, music appreciation classes and symphonic band. Harper has been working at Whitney since it opened four years ago. He said he’s impressed with the number of students involved in music. Harper said about 220 students of Whitney’s 1,500-student population are enrolled in some sort of music class. “We opened up day 1 with music classes,” he said. “In fact, three weeks after school started that first year we added a jazz band class with 14 students.” Today Harper said the class has grown to a full ensemble, which makes the music that much more enjoyable to teach and play. Openings in the jazz band class each session are available by audition only. Each student must try out each year. And although many of the students prefer playing big band music, Harper also encourages the class to learn how to play Latin, funk and even a bit of rock. “We try to play everything we can to give the kids the whole experience,” Harper said. Being in jazz band isn’t enough for some students. Harper said some of his students participate in three bands. “We have some kids in marching, symphonic and jazz bands,” he said. Harper is pleased with the cross section of the student population that participates in the bands he conducts. For many, participating in band is not their only school activity. “We have many who are school athletes, some who are in theater and others who hold down part-time jobs,” Harper said. Harper is pleased with the support the bands have received, especially during the time the entire school participates in Fight Song Friday each week during football season. “Fight Song Friday is a great event during the fall that everyone attends,” Harper said. “Everyone is out in the quad and the band always gets lots of requests. We have this cohesive group. It’s just what we’ve established.” Even though Harper’s experience at Whitney has only been four years, his knowledge and love of music goes back to fourth grade when he began playing the trombone. He admits his whole family is musically inclined. He’s enjoying continuing the family music tradition, as his own daughter, a Whitney freshman, is one of his students. “I love seeing the students grow,” Harper said. “I love seeing their faces when they know they’ve done a good job.”