Zionsville West Jazz Ensemble Earns Its First Gold
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Courtesy of Zionsville West Middle School
You may have noticed the students, staff and families of the Zionsville West Middle School’s Jazz Ensemble have been walking around town with a little extra pep in their steps. That’s because the sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the ensemble recently earned their first gold rating.
Zionsville West Jazz Ensemble competed at the Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA) Middle School Group I competition that was held in Brownsburg March 2. ISSMA Group I is the highest level of performance for middle school.
Zionsville West Jazz Ensemble is directed by Andrew Steck, a trumpet player, who is completing his second year at Zionsville West. Steck previously taught grades six through 12 at the junior and senior high school in Lapel, Indiana.
“Lapel was a great place to teach, but it was a great opportunity for me to join a program [here at Zionsville West] that was a little bit bigger,” Steck said. “There were a lot of great fundamentals happening here, and I inherited a lot of great kids that knew many of the basics.”
Upon joining the ZCS district, Steck decided that he wanted to enter the band students in more music festivals, such as Pendleton, Purdue and ISSMA competitions.
“Performing in these festivals/competitions is a great way to get the kids to hear constructive feedback from other professionals, other than me, and work with other musicians. It also pushes them out of their comfort zone a little bit. it forces them to get that preparation edge, have some guts and put it on stage. Sometimes we get good praise, and sometimes we take our lumps, process the feedback and turn it around for the next performance, which these kids are doing an exceptional job at.”
Steck praised the Zionsville West Jazz Ensemble for their dedication to working on ensemble and soloing techniques and for their ability to connect with the music literature at a different level.
“I have learned what drives them [the students], and that helps me pick music that I think they’ll grow from,” Steck said. “They’ll feed off it and develop a deeper relationship with the music.”
Earning their first gold rating was a huge deal for the students, and it meant a great deal to Steck and the faculty as well.
“They [the students] were over the moon, and I was over the moon,” Steck exclaimed. “To my knowledge, Zionsville West has not competed in this jazz competition before, and to receive a gold rating the first time performing is exciting. We laid it out there for the kids beforehand and talked about
this [experience] being about ‘evaluation,’ not ‘validation,’ but then they stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park.”
Three Zionsville West Jazz Ensemble soloists were recognized at this competition as Outstanding Soloists: Matthew Hofer, Cooper Wood and Jonathan Mangus. These three were recognized by each of the three judges for outstanding merit.
Despite being the second-lowest funded school in the state, ZCS performing arts programs are excelling and bringing home top honors.
“It was a great weekend for our community,” Steck said. “The high school and ZMS got gold ratings at ISSMA. The Zionsville West Swing Choir, directed by Andy Kistner, earned a gold rating, so the success is not just here [at Zionsville West]. All three buildings are working hard, and that is getting recognition at these festivals and ISSMA competitions.”
Zionsville West Jazz Ensemble meets three times a week before school to practice throughout the school year. The commitment and support of the students’ families are not lost on Steck and the faculty.
“They come in three times a week, hungry to be really good,” Steck said. “This year, particularly, I’ve seen a sense of ownership and pride in these students. They are learning how to be discerning and how to determine what is good, what is great and how to go from good to great. The things that we are able to achieve musically and artistically teaches us what it means to be expressive and how to have a creative outlet. That is essential in order to be a well-rounded person. The kids’ achievements are great,
but it’s not the plaque on the wall that is essential to their success. The skills that we are sending them into the world with and the support of the parents, volunteers and our community is essential to the
students’ success. They all go hand-in-hand.”