Billings Senior High percussionist Malley Nason didn't feel the power of her sticks until a conductor with the Billings Youth Orchestra pointed to her during a concert and grinned when she nailed her part.
“I had been playing in good bands all along, but that experience was so intense. I thought, this is me, this is my thing,'' said Nason, who serves as principal percussionist and one of three drum majors in Senior High's marching band.
Like her uncle and her grandfather, Nason chose percussion shortly after joining band as a fifth-grader.
“I get to play all the cool stuff,'' Nason said. “And I get to do this every day.''
Senior High band director Jeff Long has 51 other students like Nason whose commitment to his program helped the symphonic band get selected to perform at the All Northwest Music Educators National Conference in February.
Students in Senior's top band will charter a bus to take them and their chaperones to Seattle to perform Feb. 19 at the Hyatt Regency Grand Ballroom in Bellevue. They are selling fruit and creating a poster to help raise money for the trip. Folks can hear them play at 7 p.m. Tuesday in a concert in Senior High's auditorium.
“It's a real big honor to be selected as one of the top groups in the Northwest,'' Long said. “It puts a little pressure on me and the kids, but it also reinforces the idea that we are a quality program.''
Long went to All Northwest in 1975 when he was a band student at Great Falls High, and he still marvels at what a big deal it was. At the convention, band directors get to hobnob with other directors and learn from university music directors. Select student groups get to strut their stuff.
Senior High is one of four Montana school bands selected to attend the festival. Glacier High, Dillon High, and Chief Joseph Middle School are also invited to go.
At last year's AA Band Festival and District Music Festival, an adjudicator and some fellow directors talked Long into applying for the honor, something Long had not done before as a band director.
“People kept coming up to me and telling me 'You should be really proud of your band,'” Long said. “My students should be really proud of themselves. This is something they'll remember their whole life.”
The last time Senior High sent a group to All Northwest was in the early 1980s, before Rob Wells, School District 2 coordinator for music and art, moved to Billings to become West High's band director. The Senior High Orchestra was the last Senior music group selected for All Northwest, and that was in the early 1980s, according to Senior High's music department secretary Barby Schnetzer.
Wells said it's been at least 20 years since a Billings public school music group has performed at All Northwest.
“I think it's just a recognition of the whole music program in Billings,'' Wells said. “It is an extremely strong program and Jeff Long is one of the shining stars of the staff.''
Wells said it's no secret that the district's best and brightest students play music. In the three public high schools, there are 1,600 to 1,700 students involved in music, including band, orchestra and choir. At Senior, 150 students play in three bands.
“There is no activity being taught in the school system that fosters creative thinking and working together as a group like music does,'' Wells said. “One of the things that is interesting is some of the research that has come out indicating that business leaders are looking for two things in people. They want employees with the ability to work with others and people who can think creatively. Nothing teaches that better than music.''
Contact Jaci Webb at 657-1359 or firstname.lastname@example.org