The high school band from the small town of Elgin in northeast Oregon competed for the first time in the statewide Oregon School Activities Association band and orchestra championships. The event started on Wednesday in Corvallis and drew nearly 200 public and private high schools from around the state.
The Elgin team finished in fifth place among the seven other bands competing in their school division.
Speaking from Corvallis, Elgin High School band and choir director Tucker Murphey said he was “extremely proud” of his team and their accomplishment.
“They exceeded all my expectations today. I thought the students handled themselves with great poise and professionalism. We are bummed that we didn’t come home with a trophy but we are hungry to get back to it next year and hopefully make it to the podium,” he said.
Erika Adams, a flute player, is one of two seniors in the band and is graduating at the end of the month.
“We are a young band and I was trying not to get my hopes up,” she said. “But it was such a good experience to go through it and learn from it, and I’m just really looking forward to hearing about how well they do in the future.”
The team scored a total of 278 points, just one point shy of earning a trophy, according to Murphey. Their performance was evaluated on several measures, including intonation and accuracy of playing the notes in the three musical compositions they performed.
Still, Murphey is thankful for the experience of leading the band to its first-ever appearance at the state finals and is already planning to make changes to be better prepared for next year, including folding in early morning rehearsals.
“We were the very first group to play, really early at 8 a.m., and my class is in the afternoon, so we are not used to performing in the morning,” he said.
Adams has two younger sisters who also perform in the 16-member band. “It’s just a really good experience, especially because we’re able to critique each other in a way that’s not hurtful, but they tell me how I can improve myself, and we go home and we practice together,” she said.
Adams has been a student of Murphey’s since the 6th grade when she decided to pick up the flute and join her friends in band practice.
She was a freshman in 2019 when the band’s performance at a district competition clocked in at just under 15 minutes, the minimum length required under contest rules to advance to the state finals.
“I remember Mr. Murphy being really disappointed and it hurt me more that our teacher had seen such hopes for us and that we weren’t able to get there because of such what seemed to be small reasoning,” Adams said.
Murphey resolved to avoid any missteps the following year. But then came the pandemic which brought the music to a halt well beyond the halls of Elgin High.
“When COVID hit and I lost four seniors, I thought the sky was falling. Would the band ever be able to play again at this level?” Murphey said.
He also faced a more pressing problem: how to keep bandmates engaged and developing musically when they couldn’t meet in person for rehearsals and performances? So Murphey posted assignments on Google Classroom and had the students record themselves completing them for him to critique.
And he also found a way to showcase the band’s growth and instill a sense of cohesion.
“For one of our winter concerts, we were all socially distanced. We played in the gym and … I posted it to YouTube and sent it out to parents,” Murphey said.
Adams welcomed the opportunity to perform together in person after months spent practicing the flute on her own without bandmates nearby for encouragement and motivation.
“We hadn’t been together in forever and … it was just exciting to hear that nice big, warm sound again,” she added.
In August, she will leave Elgin to start her first semester at Brigham Young University-Idaho. She plans to bring her flute along and the memories of her time learning from her teacher, mentor and friend.
“Mr. Murphey is so inspirational. He pushes me to be a better person inside class and outside of class.”
Tucker Murphey and Erika Adams appeared on Think Out Loud two days prior to the state competition. You can hear their interview by pressing the play arrow on the audio above.