Park City High Schools Percussion IV perform at Pier 39 at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf last April. The group, along with the Varsity Jazz
Park City High Schools Percussion IV perform at Pier 39 at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf last April. The group, along with the Varsity Jazz Ensemble, competed in the WorldStrides Heritage Competition and receive scores of 97 and 95.3, respectively. The competition was one of many these young musicians attended. (Photo by Jon Henry)
Park City School District bands have been making a name for themselves this school season.

The young musicians have not only performed in state and regional competitions, but also took top honors in Reno, Draper, New Orleans, Reno and San Francisco.

Bret Hughes, director of percussion of Park City High School Bands, couldn't be more proud.

"The kids played their tails off," Hughes told The Park Record. "The kids represented Park City well and had a lot of fun."

Local audiences will get to see and hear these young musicians in action when they present a series of free concerts at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts next week.

On May 20 and 21 Hughes will lead his percussion students in a program called DrumShow at 6:30 p.m. and on May 28 and 29, Chris Taylor, director of Park City High School Bands, will lead his groups in a Jazz Concert and Band Concert, respectively. All the concerts are free and open to the public.

Hughes said the concerts will be fun and a nice culmination of what the musicians have accomplished during the 2013-14 season.

One of the highlights was performing at the National School Board Association's annual conference in New Orleans on April 6.

"Advanced Percussion Studio (also known as Percussion IV) was selected to perform after we sent in an audition tape in September," Hughes said. "We received the invitation in December."

The 13-student ensemble, comprised of students ages 15 to 18, performed for an audience of 6,000 people.


"It was insane and the crowd was amazing," Hughes said. "It was full of school-board members and we got a standing ovation."

The performance capped a unique "adventure" getting to New Orleans, Hughes said.

The group left Salt Lake on Friday and they ended up staying overnight in Denver due to a delayed flight. The next day the group split and boarded two separate flights to Louisiana.

"Everyone got to New Orleans on Saturday night and a bunch of the gear got lost somewhere in Baltimore, but we managed to rent some gear beforehand from a local high school," Hughes said.

The Park City High School Varsity Jazz Band perform on the main stage of the WorldStrides Heritage Competition. (Photo by Jill Ansted)
The Park City High School Varsity Jazz Band perform on the main stage of the WorldStrides Heritage Competition. (Photo by Jill Ansted)
"We had planned on doing some touristy stuff on Saturday, but that didn't happen because we arrived so late."

The group woke the next morning, did their sound check and hung out backstage and played for 15 minutes and received a standing ovation.

"The keynote speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, the renowned educationalist, was there to talk about the importance of arts education, went on immediately after the performance and we had some great compliments from him," Hughes said. "He said during his speech that it was through arts education the percussion students have gotten this far and if they had attended another school, there is no telling where they would be."

As soon as that session finished, the group went into the exhibit hall next door and performed at a booth sponsored by the NAMM foundation, a non-profit supported in part by the National Association of Music Merchants .

"They played a 30-minute set in a more intimate and informal setting," Hughes said. "There were people just a few feet away, taking video. And they would ask the kids questions and the kids really handled everything nicely."

The next morning they all woke up at 4 a.m. and flew home so they could be in class on Monday at noon, but the performances didn't stop there.

The following Tuesday, the musicians performed in a band concert and then did a show with the Region Concert Band on Wednesday.

"On Thursday, Percussion IV and Varsity Jazz Ensemble left for Reno, Nevada, to compete at the Reno Jazz Festival on Friday," Hughes said. "That festival is humongous. It's a three-day festival that includes vocal jazz, jazz ensembles and jazz combos."

Park City High School's Varsity Jazz Ensemble, comprised of 20 students ages 16 to 18, won their division, which was High School "C," said director Taylor.

"I'm still wondering why we got put in that division," he said. "They have all kinds of divisions from class C to 1, 2, 3 and 4 A, so it's a pretty big festival and heavy on competition.

"To be honest, I was a bit disappointed that we were put in Class C, because I really wanted to go up against the big ones," Taylor confessed. "The nice thing was that we won the division pretty handily as far as the points go."

Taylor was also excited that the kids were able to see other school bands perform.

"They could see that they are doing something right, but also realize that we have some things we need to work on," he said.

The morning after Reno, the Varsity Jazz Ensemble and Advanced Percussion Studio performed at the WorldStrides San Francisco Heritage Music Festival at Foothill College in Los Altos, California.

"WorldStrides Heritage host a ton of these festivals throughout the country, but what is cool about them is that they give all these groups an opportunity to travel to places that fit in with the different school schedules," Hughes said. "Organizers have taken the time to develop a standardized system so no matter which festival the musicians attend, they all get comparable feedback and are all judged against a national standard."

The Park City musicians went up against 700 students from six different states and Canada.

"The competitions included everything from orchestra and jazz band to choirs and percussion ensembles," Hughes said. "The Park City High Jazz Ensemble was the top-scoring band at the entire festival. That means they got a gold rating and took first in the Jazz Band category."

A gold rating is given to musicians who score a 90 or higher, he said.

"Our percussion ensemble was the highest scoring ensemble at the festival," Hughes said. "Since there wasn't another percussion ensemble competing, we didn't officially take first place, but we also received a gold rating. They scored a 97 out of 100 and received a lot of great feedback from the judges."

In addition, the bands received adjudicator awards, which are similar to gold ratings, and are given to musicians who score a 92 or higher.

"Also, Will Schumacher, Orville Clarke, and Leo Peters were given Maestro Award for outstanding individual musicianship within an ensemble," Hughes said.

All the Park City bands earned the Instrumental Sweepstakes Award for the highest average score — closest to 200 — for a school with at least two instrumental entries.

"We only took two groups and we came home with the Sweepstakes award," Hughes explained. "We won over other schools who took three or four groups to the competition."

After the competition, the students performed at San Francisco's famous Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf and played a three-hour public show.

"People would ask what college we were from and found great humor in the fact that we were from a high school," Hughes said. "There were a lot of sunburns to go along with the fun."

During their stay in the Bay Area, the groups also participated in clinics at Half Moon Bay High School and Stanford University.

"We had Fredrick Berry, who is head of the Jazz Studies department at Stanford, come teach us a master class," Taylor said. "What was awesome was that he gave us a choice to go over music we've already performed or some that we haven't."

Taylor told Berry that the musicians struggle with a medium-paced, Count Basie-type swing.

"It so happened he played in the Basie band for years and brought over a big box filled with charts and helped the kids learn to play with that style," Taylor said. "The kids jumped all over this."

Taylor said experiences like these inspires his students and also raises the bar for the next batch that will begin the programs in the coming years.

"This is really a good group of kids," he said. "They work really hard and the cool thing is that every year the group gets a little better."

Park City Bands will present DrumShow 1 on Tuesday, May 20, and DrumShow 2 on Wednesday, May 21, at the Park City High School Black Box Theater. Both concerts will begin at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, visit