KHSJO take on the mountain!

On Thursday 2 May 2019, 23 students and 3 staff left Kirrawee HS at 7am. Destination: Mt Gambier. Mission: to compete in the National Stage Band and Vocal Ensemble Championships, known as “Generations in Jazz”.

Kirrawee HS have been travelling to Mt Gambier since 2015. For some, this was their last time and for others, it was their first encounter with the “big tent”. Last year 5500 students from around Australia descended on Mt Gambier to compete. With it’s popularity growing, this year New Zealand flew across the bite and it was not surprising to hear that the world’s largest modular tent was going to appear in the paddock. Seating over 8000 people, the tent took 18 people and a couple of days to install.

So, the Kirrawee team set off to travel to Bendigo with our new driver Tony, who started each trip with the “joke of the day”. This year, we decided to stay at the Avondel Caravan Park. The kids were so excited to find out that the accommodation were self contained units with en suites.

On Friday, we arrived at the Active 8 Sports Centre, which was to be our home for the next 2 days. We unpacked, set up the air beds and got to work on running through our pieces for the next day. Of course, we couldn’t bring everything with us, so the rhythm section had to improvise. Tim Roffe and Jesse Whyte went about finding items that could be used to become a drum kit and Tristan Knapman started practicing his part on the piano app on his phone. Whilst the band were working hard with myself and Miss Moroney, the vocalists were being put through their paces by Mr Munsie.

At 4.30pm, we boarded the bus and made out way to “the tent”.  What an extraordinary sight it was to see coming over the hill. After dinner, we made our way to inside this tent where we met up with Alumni Witney Mc Culloch. Witney graduated last year and was back doing her “Honours” degree. During the festival, she was artist liaison for Ricky Woodard (tenor sax) and Liz Wright (vocalist). She was telling us she had just returned from Melbourne, where she was artist liaison for the International Jazz Day Concert on Tuesday 30 April. It was so lovely to catch up with her.

Whilst we were chatting, the sound engineer for the event came over to the kids looking for their director. Turns out, the “sound engineer”, Todd Dearly, is a Kirrawee Alumni 1987, having left at Year 10 to go to Port Hacking to study music because it wasn’t offered at the time. Oh how times have changed. Todd is currently working at the Opera House and has been James Morrison’s sound engineer since the 90’s.

The opening night concert was a stunning array of the finest jazz musicians on the planet – Ricky Woodard, Joey De Francesco, Matt Jodrell, Ross Irwin, James Morrison, Kurt Elling, Liz Wright, the masters fellows from the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz and the artists in residence at JMA (James Morrison Academy). What an extraordinary evening of amazing talent and professionalism. The students came out wondering if it could get any better….and it did!

Saturday was competition day. The band were on first, leading the way in Division 3. The whole group were very keen to play and were beaming when they came off the stage. The Open Vocal Division was running late, so the team had to wait an hour before they could take the stage. But, in true Kirrawee form, this did not deter them and they did not disappoint. So, time to relax and take a look at some other bands, combos, vocal groups and of course, make new friends from other schools.

 After dinner, we were back in the big tent for the evening event. It was here, they announced the “Superbands” for each division. For each division, the adjudicators select students from a variety of schools to make up a “superband”. They might select one or more students from a single school and these students are awarded a special GIJ hat with “superband” status. This accolade has eluded Kirrawee HS until Jake Hummerston of Year 12, was named Trumpet 3 in the 3.2 Superband division. It is a great honour and to say the team were excited was an understatement. We settled back for another night of extraordinary performances which superseded the night before.

Sunday was workshop day. The students got to listen to their idols talk about improvisation, the art of playing in a big band and some even witnessed others being put through their paces by Kurt and Liz. Everyone walked away armed with an array of ideas and inspirations.

We headed back to the big tent for the last time, experiencing single performances between the award presentations. I knew the students had played incredibly well but I don’t think I cheered when I heard Kirrawee HS awarded 2nd place in Division 3.2. I was in shock.

Division 3 contained 59 bands that were broken up into Division 3.1 and 3.2. The adjudicators award 3 placings in each subdivision. This is an extraordinary achievement in itself with the students placing 3rd overall between the 2 divisions. So, with great excitement and a few tears, the Year 12 students represented the band on the podium. All the students were (still are) incredibly proud of their achievement, with some still in shock (including me).

The Open Vocal team placed 11th, which was a fantastic result for their first attempt in this division. With each new challenge, the vocal team grow and mature into an experienced group exceptional vocalists.

28 hours later, and we arrive home to our families and friends greeting us at the school. Such an amazing welcome home after the most extraordinary trip. Each year I say the same thing, Generations in Jazz will change you as a person. This large scale event is like nothing you will ever experience and will be treasured forever in the minds of those who are involved.  The immersion of the jazz art form opens the hearts and minds of our students and we look forward to seeing what they can achieve in their future.