Staff Reporter 

Medical Lake sends performers to state in Yakima

Students will be part of various band, choir events President's Day weekend


February 8, 2018

Paul Delaney

Some of the members of the 2018 All-State band and choir include: (L-R) Grace Remendowski, Megan Goertz, Riley Olmstead, Chris Keister, Sofia Novochekhova, Luke Evenson, Emilie Browning (saxophone) Keziah Flaherty, Lauren Saue-Fletcher and Justyce Cogswell. Kelton Earl on drum set. Not pictured- Joanna Destout, Amanda Sims and Michael Kaulig.

While Medical Lake sports teams are headed to the postseason this week in hopes of state titles, another group of competitors are also seeking glory on the big stage.

Medical Lake musicians under the tutelage of music teacher Craig Johnson have been working behind the scenes with hours of practice to aspire to become members of All-State Bands and Choir.

That competition takes place Presidents' Day weekend, Feb. 16–18 at Yakima's Eisenhower High School. Students involved include: Sofia Novochekhova, Emilie Browning, Justyce Cogswell, Lauren Saue-Fletcher, Megan Goertz, Kelton Earl, Michael Kaulig, Riley Olmstead and Grace Remendowski from band with Keziah Flaherty, Luke Evenson, Joanna Destout, Chris Keister and Amanda Sims making up the choir.

"It's an intense process to get to state," Johnson said. Each aspiring all-state musician has to learn three to four exercises, but percussionists must do even more.

After much pre-preparation, Johnson said he then records each prospective member. From there, judges listen to every entrant and make the choice.

"It's like an all-star team of musicians, for the weekend they get to hang out, rehearse with a guest conductor and then they put on a culminating performance on Sunday of President's Day weekend," Johnson said.

Not only is it the music memories but relationships that emerge from the competition. "These kids come back from it really pumped up, they make new friends, they keep in touch with their all-star musician friends across the state," Johnson said.

That becomes infectious in the high school band room. They come back and share that experience and it makes others aspire to be part of that group.

But Johnson reminds that, like in athletic excellence, it is hardly easy to reach state.

There are the sacrifices, Johnson said. "It takes hours and hours of selfless practicing, isolation," to which Johnson tries to help as much as possible.

Even though there is not a judge in the beginning, having the recorder on exerts a great deal of pressure as they try to get it right, Johnson said.

Every aspiring musician uses the same material so that there is a baseline with the correct notes, rhythms, articulations, dynamics all at the proper tempo. Those are the musts before judges take into consideration the subjective aspects of a performance.

The musicians compete to be part of three specific bands at the Yakima competition including a wind ensemble, concert band and wind symphony. Those numbers of musicians can range from 65–150, depending on the year, Johnson said. "You just don't know until you get there."

The wind ensemble consists of any sized school while the wind symphony is for 2A schools on down. The wind ensemble allows smaller schools a chance to compete on an even footing with those larger.

This year the competition is just within the state of Washington but last year it was All-Northwest where graduate Nick Isherwood was the only bass player in the jazz band that included performers from six states.

Having a solid core of competitors reach the state competition level has a lot to do with a successful day-to-day program that has reached its own level of excellence.

In 2017, the Medical Lake Jazz Band won festivals at Bellevue and Mead. "We're going to go back and defend our titles," Johnson said.

And one does not need to travel 200 miles to hear these musicians. The concert band heads to Eastern Washington University to perform Saturday, Feb. 10 along with Wenatchee and Mt. Spokane. They perform at 7:30 p.m. in Showalter Hall Auditorium.

Paul Delaney can be reached at


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