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Solon jazz takes two top spots

The Solon High School Vocal Department’s 5th Street Jazz group made it two in a row, taking first place at the state jazz championship at Valley High School in West Des Moines March 27. (contributed photo)

SOLON– Last year, the Solon High School Vocal Jazz department made history having three of its groups selected for the state championships.
The program topped that accomplishment this year, making history all over again.
In the March 27 state jazz championship at Valley High School in West Des Moines, the top two places went to Solon High School. It was the first accomplishment of its kind for the competition in the state of Iowa.
“Somebody had said this would be like if the basketball team could field two varsity squads, and they met in the championship game,” said vocal music director Joel Foreman. “That’s essentially what we did. It’s super cool.”
The teams taking the top two spots were 5th Street Jazz, placing first again, same as last year, and Blame It On Our Youth, which moved up from its third place finish in 2017, to the second spot this year.
“This year,” Foreman said of Blame It On Our Youth, “They just decided to one-up themselves.”
The returning 5th Street Jazz squad had a fair amount of carryover from last year’s championship team, but Foreman said Blame It On Our Youth returned less than 50 percent of its singers.
“They really sang their hearts out, and just did an incredible job representing Solon that day,” Foreman said.
It all began with a video submission. Such submissions are how groups apply to the Iowa Vocal Jazz Championships. Each year, only the top seven or eight groups from each class are selected to compete. This year, eight schools from class 3A were accepted with Solon occupying two of those spots. All 32 ensembles converged at Valley High School, singing throughout the day for a panel of judges. Awards were given at the end of the night.“Everybody’s in the auditorium, it’s packed, standing room only, and we were all sitting together,” said Foreman, setting the scene. “And they read from the bottom up. So when they read third place, we knew we had the top two spots. It was just a matter of what order.
“It was pretty exciting. The kids were very hopeful to come back and have another impactful finish this year. And they ended up doing it. They just sang so incredibly well, I was super proud of their performances. Their placings are a nice icing on the cake, so to speak,” he said.
All five vocal jazz teams from Solon attended the competition. Foreman said the honor was very special, and its announcement prompted lots of cheering and hugging and high fives.
Foreman, in his 13th year at Solon High School, brought the idea of the vocal jazz choir from his hometown of Seattle, where such programs are commonplace. In the end, it was the students who truly made the decision.
The director hung up two sign-up sheets in the school, side by side. One was to participate in show choir during the fall. Only 19 kids signed up for that. For the jazz choir option in the spring? Forty-five students expressed interest in that option.
“The kids kind of directed the change,” said Foreman. “We had an incredible number of students that said they were interested in that. So we began our first jazz choir.”
Early success helped ensure the program caught on quickly. In 2008, the jazz choir’s first year of competition, it won the state championship.
Upperclassmen led the way, said Foreman, and everybody kind of caught the fever. “Having that success early on really solidified it.”
The following year, a second group was started to catch up with student demand.
“And we just continued to grow to the point where we now have five jazz choirs,” Foreman said.
The five groups contain a lot of highly-talented students who share a common vision, the director said.
“They all bring their very best to rehearsal every day. We always talk about choir as kind of this big, weird family, where everybody has their different skill set and personalities, but they all bring that together to do something pretty incredible,” said Foreman.
“Hands down, Solon students are the best. They’re just phenomenal kids who work harder than anybody else, commit more than anybody else, and, respectfully, to any other program, I would just say there’s nothing like a Solon student. They’re the most special kids I’ve ever worked with and I’m just super blessed to be in this position.”