Jazz Band’s Journey to Hershey


Janene Hodge, Emme Cunningham, and Jordyn Hronec, Staff Writers

This year, the North Hills Jazz Band was given the opportunity to perform in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The Jazz Band was chosen to play for The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and School Boards Association Conference, a group of people who are in charge of public school boards. The Jazz Band was fortunate to be selected from among 500 different school districts that included dance teams, orchestras, glee clubs, and other musical groups, and their trip took place from October 13th to October 16th. It was a huge success for everyone.

Songs that were selected to be performed catered to the audience. The band played Blackbird by the Beatles, Just Friends by John Klenner, and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy by the Andrews Sisters. Working very hard, the Jazz Band practices daily at the High School. They’ve also been a part of other performances, including opening for the Balcony Big Band, partnering regularly with guest artists from the Pittsburgh area, and hosting an annual Mardi Gras evening of jazz at the Ross Community Center. The Jazz Band is directed and was welcomed in by Mr. Len Lavelle.

Performing in front of a multitude of important educators from all over Pennsylvania is enough to make anyone nervous. In fact, performing in general is enough to make most people, at anything, slightly uncomfortable. But imagine travelling across the state, hours spent on a bus, to go and do so. This situation, one many people couldn’t see themselves doing in a million years, became the reality for this special group of students in our school. And they’re quite unfazed by it. Before they embarked on their journey, I wanted to get the opinion of a member of the band. So, I sat down in the cafeteria to talk to one of the Jazz Band’s own, the talented and soft-spoken Greta Zewe, whose statements, while calm, contained a certain undertone of excitement.

“I play keyboard, and this is my first year where I’m playing keyboard in the Jazz Band. There’s another keyboardist as well, Izzy Roll. She sings in the Jazz Band as well,” Greta tells me, regarding her role in the ensemble. When it comes to her gauge of the importance of this performance, she tells me: “We’re performing at the PSBA-PASA convention, and I know that it’s a conference of important people related to our schools in Pennsylvania!” The conversation shifts then, to discuss some of the more technical aspects of the Jazz Band. “What’s your favorite piece that you’re playing?” I ask her. She smiles, glad to get down to what’s most important; the music. “Blackbird,” she tells me. “Because it’s a song I already knew pretty well before we started playing it, but our version has a cool funky twist.” Of course, with the music, comes practicing. And lots of it. “Jazz Band is our first period class, so we’ve been essentially practicing since the beginning of the school year,” says Greta. “We actually just started learning one of the songs we’re playing last week!”

I remind her that last year, wind ensemble, another band Greta is a part of, went to Rhode Island to perform. Apparently, the two trips, and the preparation for these trips in particular, have been anything but the same. “It’s been pretty different!” Greta says, laughing. “We had a lot more time to practice for the Rhode Island trip last year, since it was in the spring.” I then move on to something perhaps more interesting; the things to be done in Hershey. (Besides performing!) “The hotel we’re staying at has a pool, so we’re going to hang out there after our performance, and we get to watch a bunch of other bands perform,” explains Greta excitedly.

“We found out [about the performance] at the beginning of the school year,” says Greta, in regards to when the exciting announcement was made. “But in band, you can find out about a trip as late as a month in advance, mostly because the practice and preparation for every event is the same. We have the same goals every time we perform for anybody,” Greta tells me.

I ask Greta about different Jazz Band events scheduled this year, and she answers: “We have Mardi Gras in February and Jazz Night every year, and those are always big focuses of ours.” There’s no rest for the Jazz Band, it’s on to the next big performance with more practice and preparation!

“I’m in marching band, wind ensemble, and of course, Jazz Band. Jazz Band is different, because there are only thirty of us. I already know everyone really well due to involvement in other bands, but Jazz Band can be ‘chiller’ than the other groups sometimes,” Greta remarks, after being asked about her involvement in band overall here at North Hills. When I ask her about her experience in Jazz Band as a whole, she has only positives to share. “It’s been fantastic,” she says. “I’ve learned a ton of new stuff, coming from a classical background. I’ve learned a lot about jazz piano and theory, and that’s been really helpful in my other band classes.”

After the Jazz Band’s triumphant return, I had the chance to sit down with band director, Mr. Lavelle. He was able to inform me about the Jazz Band, and the event that they recently participated in. He shared valuable information about the band and their progress with me.


Q: How did you get involved with the program?

A: The administration recommended us to go to the convention to showcase our work. We then made our audition tape and eventually got selected.


Q: What was your favorite part of the trip?

A: It was really fun to perform with the kids and be able to share it with the students.


Q: How did you pick the members of Jazz Band?

A: The kids who wanted to be a part of it came to me and auditioned. Some kids made it in, others did not.


Q: How did you choose the songs you performed?

A: I choose pieces that the audience would recognize.


Q: What was your least favorite part of the trip?

A: I didn’t have a least favorite part it was all very fun and exciting to be with the students.


Q: What do you have planned this year for Jazz Band?

A: I am planning to have a jazz band concert here November 19 with a special guest artist and Mardi Gras is March 19th. We are also attending a Music Department tour in Williamsburg, Virginia.


Q: What is your favorite song the Jazz Band performed and why?

A: The “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, because it was the closing song and the audience had a great reaction. They really seemed to like it.


Q: What do you think of the Jazz Band’s performance?

A: They performed very well, and I was happy with the performance and how well they are accelerating so early in the year.


Q: What was your first reaction to being chosen for this event?

A: I was excited for the students, but I knew they would do very well.


Q: If you had the chance, where would you want the Jazz Band to perform and why?

A: I look forward to the next performance, whenever and wherever it is.


The Jazz Band is really eager to work with each other more this year. They have a lot more in store to make the North Hills High School Jazz Band a must-see group. Mr. Lavelle will be directing Jazz Band to the best of his ability. Lots of hard work will for sure put them at the top of their game and lead to many more successes.