Continuing its long tradition of excellence, the award-winning Hillgrove High School band program added another accolade to its impressive resume. The Hawk Jazz Orchestra was recently invited to play at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Conference in Chicago, Illinois. They were the first high school jazz ensemble from Georgia selected to perform at this prestigious event.
The hour-long performance took place over the Winter Holiday break on December 20, 2023. The 30 students who made the 13-hour trip to the Windy City were rewarded with not only getting to play the music they love but also with three days of sightseeing and food in the third-largest city in the country.
In total, the Hillgrove jazz program has over seventy students and includes the Jazz Orchestra and a second jazz band, JazzGrove. The Jazz Orchestra is the premier jazz ensemble at the school. They performed at several other events in 2023, including the Georgia Music Educator Association Conference and a regional Essentially Ellington festival in Nashville, Tennessee.
Hillgrove Principal Angela Stewart attended the performance and said she smiled, danced, and cried out of pure admiration for her Hawk student musicians.
"I am in awe of the level of talent that I witnessed from our Jazz Orchestra at the conference," said Principal Stewart proudly. "It was well above the high school level, and watching our students in their element passionately express their musicianship brought me to tears. Close to a thousand people came to see them and gave a standing ovation at the end. It was that good!! They represented Hillgrove and the District very well!"
Jeremy Lumpkin, Hillgrove Director of Bands, completely agreed with his principal.
"Words cannot adequately convey the depth of pride I feel for each of these students," he said. "I extend my sincere gratitude to them for their unwavering dedication, ambition, patience, and grit throughout this transformative journey. Their collective efforts have been nothing short of commendable."
The performance consisted of 11 songs of varying complexity and several styles, including blues, fusion, R&B, and swing. They played a few jazz standards as well as Hillgrove originals and an anthem for the season in "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
The students were also joined by two special guest musicians and a composer/conductor. Chris Crenshaw is a trombone player from Thomson, Georgia, and Marcus Printup is a trumpet player from Conyers, Georgia. Both are members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in New York City. Michele Fernandez is a retired music educator from Miami and a composer, conductor, and performer.
"Their participation added an electrifying dimension to our performance," said Director Lumpkin. "Acknowledging the inevitability of imperfections in any live performance, we instill in our students the understanding that the paramount objective is to convey the intended emotions of the composers to the audience. I am confident that our ensemble successfully achieved this during our performance."
In addition to spending a day performing and listening to others at the Conference, the Hawk students got to see the Blue Man Group and had their choice of attending a concert by the Osaka Shion Wind Orchestra from Japan or the United States Navy Band Jazz Commodores. They also got to spend time at the world's largest Starbucks and other Chicago landmarks like The Bean and Navy Pier, where they partook of a timeless Midwest tradition: Enjoying thick-crust pizza at Giordano's!
After returning home from a trip that won't soon be forgotten, Director Lumpkin was thankful for the entire trip and those who made it possible.
"I express my gratitude to Mr. Stephen Mattson, my esteemed assistant director, and Mrs. Lori Sweet, our Director of Operations, whose invaluable support has played a pivotal role in our achievements. Also to the exceptional administration at Hillgrove, particularly Principal Stewart, whose unwavering love and support were evident in her presence during our meaningful trip."
"I am profoundly thankful for the unwavering support of my family, whose love inspires me to continually strive for excellence as both an educator and an individual."
"Lastly, heartfelt thanks are extended to all the clinicians who dedicated their expertise to working with our students, the supportive Cobb County band directors, and Dr. Christopher Ferrell, whose guidance has been instrumental in our journey. Each of these individuals has played a significant role in our collective success, and their contributions are sincerely appreciated," he said.
Well done, Hillgrove Jazz Orchestra! We hope you enjoyed your time in the Windy City and are ready to keep taking the music in Cobb Schools to new and innovative levels. Fantastic job teaching and leading these young musicians, Directors Lumpkin and Mattson!