St. Petersburg – The Lakewood High School band of 21 musicians returned late Monday night as the 2016 National Champions of High School Jazz Bands in the United States. Anxious and overjoyed, parents stood by their cars as the bus turned into the school’s parking lot.
The air may have been chilly that night, but everyone in the parking lot felt nothing but warmth and love for the 21 young people returning home. As soon as the bus stopped and the doors opened, family members swarmed around to cheer and greet all the students filing out one by one.
Everyone chipped in to unload garment bags, suitcases, instrument cases and music stands. The 14-hour journey from New Orleans definitely did not wear down the spirits of the champions, the parent chaperones or band director Michael Kernodle as all exited the coach with big, victorious smiles.
“We were the first ones to perform somewhere between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.,” said Kernodle during one of our many phone chats during the trip.
Being the first to perform did not phase the band one bit last Saturday morning on March 19.
“This was one of the best they’ve ever played,” said Kernodle. Judges would concur with his opinion later that evening during the award ceremonies held on board the Steamboat Natchez when the band was crowned Instrumental Grand Champions. In addition to taking the top prize as a jazz band, Jonah Hollander was crowned Best Instrumental Soloist on standup bass.
“They came out there and set the bar high,” said Kernodle proudly.
The Spartan Jazzsters spent the rest of the day visiting Loyola University where they participated in improvisational and solo instrumental workshops. They also received tips from Loyola’s Coordinator of Jazz Studies, Dr. Gordon Towell, on how to enhance their musical craft even more, said Kernodle.
After the workshops at Loyola University, the group headed to the ferry for the culminating activities Saturday evening. Hollander recalled moments just prior and after hearing the news about the awards.
“We were waiting for the ferry to arrive to board the jazz dinner cruise along with several other high school bands. While waiting the competition administrators announced the winners of each award. We all were on edge in anticipation for the award of Grand Champions and top honors and finally felt a sense of relief and excitement with an uproar if cheers when the winner was read: ‘Lakewood High School of St. Petersburg, Fla.!’”
On Sunday, the award-winning musicians took a trip back in time when they visited a Louisiana plantation. Kernodle called the trip a reality check for the young people as it showed them how much better off they are now. Such a trip is beneficial for anyone to understand that current freedoms and liberties should not be taken lightly.
During the last phone conversation with Kernodle, as he and his talented group were returning on their bus from the last day of activities, the band leader praised all the people and organizations that contributed to making the journey to the Crescent City Music Festival a major success.
“There are so many people to be grateful for that God put in our path to make this all possible. However, I feel forever grateful to my cultural mom Terri Lipsey-Scott,” said Kernodle.
When he first texted Scott at 5:30 a.m. telling her the band was short several thousand dollars after the benefit concert held at the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, she sprung into action.
By the time 9 a.m. rolled around, Councilmember Steve Kornell had made his donation that helped the band reach their goal. But that wasn’t all, someone else called and donated an additional $1,000.
Because of Kernodle’s relentless dedication and belief in his students along with the support of the community, 21 gifted young people have a memory that will follow them the rest of their lives.
“The victorious trip to New Orleans has opened new doors and has made me grow as both a person and a player,” said award-winning bassist Hollander.
He emphasized that the trip and winning top honors was not about one single person. “Not only has this trip impacted me an individual, it has impacted the band as a whole and allowed everyone to grow and bond together.”
“I will never forget this ever,” exclaimed Chase Goggins, smiling from ear to ear.
Goggins and his musician mates went up against the best high school jazz bands in the country and came out on top.
“We competed against groups from Phoenix to Tennessee and beyond” said Kernodle.
Next week the band will meet their next major challenge – the Florida State Band Competitions — which will be held at Coral Gables Senior High School.