South Whidbey High School band set to compete nationally

The South Whidbey High School’s jazz band has been chosen as one of a dozen to compete in a national competition this spring, proving that what the band lacks in numbers, it makes up for in raw talent.

Fundraising efforts are underway to ensure all the band members can go to the competition in Georgia.

Director Chris Harshman said all the pieces are in place for this year’s jazz band to succeed at the festival in Savannah, Georgia, which includes three days of performances and workshops starting on April 1.

“These guys are mentally really tough,” he said. “They know how to cover a small error so no one would really notice. It’s all about recovery.”

No stranger to national competitions, Harshman has helped previous jazz bands secure their spots to compete. But for many in this current batch of jazz band players, it will be their first time national competition.

“Going across the country is something that we don’t usually do, and this is a really cool chance, especially because we’re one of two cities on the West Coast,” said junior Eric Keene, a guitarist and drummer for the jazz band.

The band has only 20 members but has been able to compete with other high school bands three times its size, Harshman said. The South Whidbey jazz band also boasts an all-women saxophonist section, which tends to surprise people, he said.

“These students are very motivated, they have great community support,” he added. “A lot of the families have a sense of live music in their lives.”

Under his guidance, several jazz band members have expressed their appreciation for the level of support Harshman has provided them as a mentor and instructor.

“He’s able to match every student’s need. He’s brought me from on the edge of being a trumpet player to wanting to go further in music as a career,” sophomore Julia Maher said. “We’re so lucky.”

The jazz band auditioned for the national festival by submitting two recorded pieces of music, “Dippermouth Blues” and “The Art of Darkness.”

South Whidbey was chosen from what Harshman believes to be hundreds of school’s auditions to compete.

But with great fortune comes great expense.

Kate McVay, president for the South Whidbey Schools Performing Arts Booster Club, estimates it will cost around $1,400 each for the students to attend the Georgia festival.

“Chris has always been committed to the idea that everybody goes or nobody goes,” McVay said. “We have to make sure that everyone is covered.”

The booster club assists in helping the jazz band raise funds. A Go Fund Me page has already been set up for people to donate to help fund the band’s trip.

“It’s ambitious, but we’ve done it before,” she said. “Past jazz bands have gone to Monterey and even New York City. It is possible.”

The South Whidbey jazz band will be playing a series of events open to the public in order to raise funds for their upcoming trip.

Their first performance will be at the Sweetheart Dance on Feb. 14 at Trinity Lutheran Church. The jazz band will also play at Useless Bay Country Club on March 14, complete with a dessert auction at the event. Both events will have tickets available at the door by donation.

And a performance at WICA is slated for March 27. WICA will have advance sales tickets.

Additionally, donations can be made to the jazz band’s Go Fund Me page, which can be accessed on the South Whidbey High School Jazz Band Facebook page or by visiting

Junior Cooper Ullmannn plays a trombone solo during practice.

Junior Cooper Ullmannn plays a trombone solo during practice.