School band competes in local band contest

Sierra Tryon, Features Editor

Every year The Rock Pizza sponsors a contest for high school bands to record classic rock and compete against each other.

Eric Ryan has been directing the PHS band for 13 years. This year the band hopes to live up to their previous successes with the piece Karn Evil 9, originally recorded by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

“Battle of the Bands is in its sixth year, sponsored by The Rock Wood Fired Pizza and organized through 95.7 KJR FM.  High schools can enter their band and provide audio through a video,” Ryan said. “The contest is an audio contest and bands are ultimately judged on how they sound.  The video only holds weight in the special $1,500 Best Video Prize provided by The Bob Rivers Show.

The contest has several steps and layers.

“There are two divisions based on school size.  PHS is in division three,” Ryan said. “The eight schools in division three receiving the most votes and the top two schools in division two receiving the most votes move to the finals where they are judged by a panel of expert musicians.”

Joe Bryant, co-host of the Bob Rivers Show, described the judges of the contest.

“We try to get a wide variety of judges from across the [music] industry,” Bryant said. “We’ve had judges like the conductor of the Seattle Symphony, rock stars like Alan White or Brad McDavid, the director of the UW marching band.”

The 2010 and 2011 battle brought about two grand prize winnings for the band program. The grand prize stands at $10,000 with $2,000 being the second place prize.

“There’s not a lot of state money for schools and programs like band are among the first cut,” Bryant said. “A few thousand could mean a field trip or badly needed instruments.”

In the past the band has had several successes in the competition.

“We’ve won $22,000 over the last three years,” Ryan said. “This money has gone towards private section coaches, equipment and travel costs.”

Senior Emma Forslund was a sophomore when the band won in 2011.

“Winning the $10,000 felt like the best thing,” Forslund said. “I always felt like we were a small town but winning a big competition made us feel big. We are the mighty Vikings.”

Ryan thought the winning moment meant a lot to both him and all of his students.

“[When we won the $10,000] obviously I was excited but I was also very proud of the students who worked so hard to get there,” Ryan said.

Ryan and Forslund aren’t the only ones who love the winner announcement. Arik Korman, Executive Director for The Bob Rivers Show, shares the feeling.

“We are as excited as the winning school,” Korman said. “We know what the prize money can mean for the school’s band program, so we feel like Santa Claus and Howie Mandel.”

Bryant said that the competition has evolved with the evolution of social media.

“Technology like Facebook and other social medias has really changed how people share videos and spread the word,” Bryant said.

According to Korman, the competition itself has changed in several ways.

“We included a video component in 2009 (year three),” Korman said. “This year, Western Washington schools compete against schools in Portland, Ore. and Denver, Colo.”

In describing which factors contributed to the band’s success in past years, he attributed it to the way students—both in band and not—came together.

“A combination of great student musicians, a good audio recording and lots of people voting for us [have played into our success],” Ryan said.

Junior Jack Rose believes that Ryan’s familiarity with his students has helped lead them to their wins.

“Mr. Ryan gets to know our band, our musicians, our special skills— and he finds good music for us,” Rose said. “Karn Evil 9 is fun and upbeat; it describes our band.”

Both Rose and Forslund see their director’s skill as fundamental.

“Everyone respects Mr. Ryan and respect makes him a leader we want to follow,” Forslund said.

Rose echoed Forslund’s praise.

“Mr. Ryan is very passionate in his directing,” Rose said. “He can see stress and knows how to step back but he won’t let you off easy.”

This year the band will face off against other division three schools including major competitors.

“Rogers is always very good.  Issaquah also has great audio,” Ryan said.

Rose could already identify a major opponent by votes.

“Right now LakeStevens is a big competitor, they’ve really been involving people in voting,” Rose said.

According to Bryant, the contest was started in 2007 when The Rock Wood Fired Pizza approached their show with an idea.

“The Rock approached us at our old station [KZOK] putting up money for the contest and we worked on the idea,” Bryant said. “They were really passionate about helping the schools and community.”

Korman expanded on Bryant’s comment.

“Battle of the Bands was created to highlight the amazing music programs in Western Washington high schools, inspire the younger generation to explore the art of classic hits from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s and give the schools an opportunity to compete for a $10,000 grand prize,” Korman said.

Bryant said Battle of the Bands can be judged on the quality of the playing, recording and the enthusiasm the bands give.

“[Battle of the Bands] puts us all towards the same goal,” Forslund said. “It gets others involved and it’s not just wind ensemble.”

For the first time this year, the Wind Ensemble was invited to play live on KJR Nov. 14 in their Seattle studio.

“Going to the radio station was a lot of fun but it was extremely enlightening to see how this medium runs.  They are very efficient,” Ryan said. “I also really enjoyed the opportunity to have a question and answer session with the Bob Rivers Show talent.  They were very gracious in spending 45 minutes with us.”

Although it was just Wind Ensemble that played on the radio the entire band program rehearses Karn Evil 9. Together they hope to bring another title to the band program.

“[Playing on 95.7] was really fun,” Rose said. “We got to do a question and answer session and it was really cool being on air and getting to walk past the stations we listen to every day.”

The winner will be announced the week of Feb. 4 and the video will be available to view on www.957kjr.com.