December will be more than just a busy month for the Mundelein High School Jazz Ensemble. It will be a month to remember. The group will have three performances, two of them away from school, all between Dec. 12 and 16.
It is the December 16 performance at the Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference that will stand out for students. Held at McCormick Place in Chicago, the Clinic is the world’s largest instrumental music education conference.
It is a rare opportunity for an ensemble to be selected. In fact, no Illinois high school jazz ensemble has been selected since 2016. And this will be the first time in Mundelein High School’s 60-year history that it will send a performing ensemble to the Midwest Clinic.
Because of an interruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, the current jazz ensemble was selected for the Midwest Clinic based on a recording from the TMHS Jazz Ensemble in 2020 - so much of the credit goes to past students. But this 20-member jazz ensemble, instructed by directors Andy Sturgeon and Jerry Shelato, has met the school’s high music standards.
“It's especially fun for me to think about the many talented students who’ve graduated from MHS and left their mark and legacy in ways they might not even realize for the current students in the Jazz Ensemble,” Sturgeon said. “This group of students has worked hard and is more than deserving of this honor.
“I feel very fortunate to get to work with so many passionate and talented students on a daily basis. I have been completely lifted up and inspired by how the students have been reflective and motivated by each step in this process.”
The students are likewise inspired by their classmates and the opportunities to perform.
“It’s both invigorating and motivating to know that there’s a performance coming up,” said MHS junior Leila Moon, one of two tenor saxophonists.
“The energy that the band gives to one another makes performing on stage a breeze,” said MHS junior Neil Martin, an alto saxophonist. “I definitely overcame my fear of stage fright just because of the way we perform.”
The MHS Jazz Ensemble is one of two curricular jazz bands at the school that is audition-based. The band performs more than a dozen times annually in a variety of venues. In the past several years, it has been named honor band at the Purdue Jazz Festival, Eau Claire Jazz Festival and has been selected to perform two times at the Illinois Music Education Conference (2016 and 2020).
This month’s performances will include the Midwest Premiere Concert from 6 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 12 at the high school; the Rob Parton Big Band Christmas Show featuring the University of North Texas Two O’Clock Lab Band and the MHS Jazz Ensemble at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 14 at Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn; and the Midwest Clinic at 12:45 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 16 at McCormick Place, Chicago.
For senior pianist Ella Kasamis, it will be hard for any experience at MHS to top this one.
“Most of my high school experience was centered around band, but I wouldn't have it any other way,” she said.