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Students earn spots in multi-state honor bands

Ramsey Walker has played the trombone for five years. - Susan Riemer/staff photo
Ramsey Walker has played the trombone for five years.
— image credit: Susan Riemer/staff photo

When Vashon High School junior Ramsey Walker was in sixth grade and deciding what instrument to play in band, he chose the trombone because it was the only instrument he could make a sound on.

Now five years and a lot of practicing later, Walker’s skill on the trombone has earned him a prestigious honor: first band, first part, first chair in the Western International Band Clinic’s (WIBC) Honor Band Program, a competition that draws musicians from five states and composers from around the world.

“To be chosen for this, you have to be a really, really outstanding player,” said Ken Quehrn, the band director at McMurray Middle School and Vashon High School.

Simply being selected for any of the competition’s four bands is an honor, according to Quehrn, but Walker’s placement was quite an achievement.

At least 50 trombone players auditioned for the competition, Querhn said, noting that he considers Walker to be one of the top trombone players around.

To audition for the competition, Walker played three exercises, mostly in the classical genre, which Quehrn taped and sent via e-mail as an mp3 file for judging.

“I was really surprised,” Walker said about his placement. “I was hoping to get in the top band, but I had no idea I’d get first chair.”

“Being accepted into this group is like making it to the state tournament in sports,” Quehrn said, and to be awarded a spot in the top band is like winning a state championship.

Walker began his musical life at age 4, when he started to play the violin, taking lessons from well-known violin teacher Gaye Detzer. This early training helped him with the trombone.

“Because I did not have to learn any basic theory, I could focus on learning the instrument,” he said.

While Walker says he still plays the violin occasionally, it is the trombone that is his passion; he also plays with the Tacoma Youth Symphony, and unfortunately he has a commitment with that ensemble the day of the WIBC concert and will not be able to attend.

Vashon will be well represented at the concert, though, as six other students also auditioned and were awarded places in the contest’s bands.

“Seven of our best players tried out,” Quehrn said.

They were all accepted, an achievement in itself. Quehrn, a band director for 16 years, said he has never had this many students accepted before.

The students who will be participating are Dylan Basurto on trumpet, playing in the fourth band, second chair; Dylan Greene on percussion, playing in the third band, fourth chair; Jack Johannessen on trombone, playing in the first band, second part, third chair; Tynan Lazarus on trumpet, playing in the second band, first part, third chair; Emory Miedema-Boyajian on percussion, playing in the fourth band, sixth chair, and Madeline Osborne on French horn, playing in the second band, second part, first chair.

This kind of competition is good for the students, Querhn said, giving students a chance to play music with musicians from off-Island and see how their playing stacks up against that of musicians from many different places.

This competition also gives other kinds of rewards, as well. The students all receive their music ahead of time and are expected to arrive at the rehearsal/concert weekend with the music learned, Querhn said. The conductors-composers of the pieces come from all over the world and work with the students on the music.

They might not always be able to understand one another’s words, Quehrn said, but they are “still able to communicate through the universal language of music.”

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