Here at West Salem High School, music is a big deal. Our wind ensemble, symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, and Choir of the Titans have consistently upheld their reputations of being some of the best in the state. The wind ensemble, composed of woodwinds, brass, and percussion, is directed by Mr. Zimbelman. The chamber orchestra is made up of string instruments and is run by Mr. Thomson. The strings, winds, and percussion all combine to form the symphony orchestra, which is co-conducted by Mr. Thomson and Mr. Zimbelman. Lastly, the Choir of the Titans, which combines male and female voices, is lead by Mrs. McConnell. Each of these three teachers are well respected in their fields, and loved by their students.
In May of each year, the Oregon Schools Activities Association hosts a band choir, and orchestra championship. (As of 2017, the Oregon Music Educators’ Association has also hosted a similar event for jazz bands.) Before even registering for such an event, each ensemble must attend a qualifying contest. Groups from West Salem have always done well at these championships.
It takes a lot of work to prepare for such an event. Each group practices many hours a week, including full ensemble rehearsals, sectionals, and private practice times. In particular, Mr. Zimbelman likes to talk about mental preparedness – “what’s important about the performance, what’s not important about it, and how to handle the competitive nature of it, to keep their heads right.” Mrs. McConnell stresses the importance of learning to tell the story of the song. She says that her goal is to “have all of the components locked in, all of the technique and the rhythms and language, so that we’re free to perform with brain of ice and a heart of fire.” Choir is also unique in that the musicians are required to learn several other languages in order to perform their pieces.
“You often see audience member with teary eyes after we’re done.”
In the end, the scores and placements are not what matters to the West Salem music ensembles. Mr. Zimbelman remarked “I like it when the crowd is emotionally affected by what we do, when a beautiful piece pulls at their heart strings. You often see audience member with teary eyes after we’re done.” For Mrs. McConnell, getting to see how excited the choir members are, and how close they’ve become, are some of the best parts of the state competition. She describes it as the “peak emotional experience of the year.”
At the 2019 state championships, Choir of the Titans placed 3rd, Symphony Orchestra placed 1st, and the Wind Ensemble placed 1st. Chamber Orchestra did not place but also had a wonderful performance.