By Erin Post
It had all the trappings of a classic David and Goliath battle.
Jazz students from Harwood Union, student population: 818, traveled to Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music last weekend to take on bands from across the country in what has been billed the largest high school jazz festival in the world.
It was this latter animal that Harwood ran up against in the small jazz ensemble category. Harwood's trio found themselves competing against students from the Los Angeles County Arts School, an institution that draws the most talented young musicians from the greater L.A. area.
Despite the prestigious name, they proved to be no match for Vermont; judges awarded Harwood first place in the category, for the second year in a row.
In the big band competition, featuring full-size jazz bands, Harwood's 'A' jazz band lost to Old Rochester High School by just 10 points, coming away with a second place finish in its division.
It was an exhilarating weekend, said Harwood instructor Bruce Sklar, pointing out that Harwood almost didn't make it to Boston at all on account of the nor'easter that blew in Friday.
The students traveled to Boston in two vans and a smattering of parent-driven cars, Sklar said, and it took over five hours just to make it from Manchester, New Hampshire, to Boston.
Although the drive was less than ideal, the students turned in an impressive showing all-around.
The list of awards and accolades is lengthy: In addition to the first place finish in the small ensemble category and the second-place finish in the big band category, Harwood students came home with three Outstanding Musician awards, two for Chris Barosky and one for Michael Hardin as well as a Superior Musician Award for Greg Sallerson.
The weekend at Berklee follows an equally strong showing at the Vermont High School Jazz Festival, held at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, March 13.
For the third year running, Harwood took first place in what is considered the championship competition for Vermont jazz bands.
And it doesn't stop there: Out of the18 students chosen by audition for the Vermont All-State Band this year, six come from Harwood Union. That means one-third of the band members considered to be the best high school musicians in the state hail from right here in The Valley and surrounding area.
"It's outrageous numbers," Sklar said. "It's happening now."
He credits Harwood's success to the work ethic of students-night rehearsals are not uncommon-as well as to the school's support network.
"We have amazing community support," he said, "and support from parents."
The structure of Harwood's music program also plays a role, Sklar said.
He said about 65 students from the middle school and high school participate in the jazz program; many of these musicians also play in the concert band, the chorus, and other programs.
Sklar said instructors in the music department work together to make sure students aren't spread thin and that they get the practice time and attention they need to succeed.
This has resulted in a string of successes that may be unparalleled in the state, Sklar said, wracking his brain for other schools that have come close to Harwood's level of performance. Some schools have very good programs, he said, but Harwood seems to be leading the pack when it comes to its showing in Boston and other competitions.
"Nobody has ever done this in the state of Vermont," he said.