What do Abbie Loring, Maxwell Baker and Eliza Fitz have in common? They’re all musicians in the David Douglas School District music program and, apparently, fine individuals, enthusiastic young people and hard workers—definitely not the types of teens in their phones constantly, because … like … they’re too busy.
Abbie Loring just had an exchange student stay with her family, so things have been a bit hectic when she took time to chat with the Memo about her passion—playing the double bass. More than the music itself, she said her favorite thing about playing in the band and orchestra is all the “super” people she’s met. Like sports, to Abbie, music allows you to make lifelong friends who become almost family because of the trust you have to put in one another and the time you spend together.
Loring’s been playing bass since the sixth grade. Aa a senior this year, she plays in the David Douglas High School symphony and symphonic orchestra as well as the wind ensemble and jazz band. She gives kudos to Tom Muller and Jennifer Brooks-Muller—both band directors at the high school. They’re a married couple that team-teaches the program. “If I ever need advice on anything, they are always the first people I go to,” said Loring. “They’re huge role models in my life. They have a passion for music that makes it amazing to be a part of [the program] as well as a personal relationship with their students.”
Last year she played in a bass trio that won districts and competed at the state level.
“I don’t think music is something I would ever pursue as a career, but I know that playing the bass is something I’ll continue doing for fun. My kids will definitely play an instrument as well,” Loring said.
The district offers fifth-grade band, sixth-grade beginning band, sixth-grade advanced band, two ability-based seventh/eighth-grade bands and jazz bands. The high school offers three ability-based bands, three jazz bands, a percussion ensemble, marching band and a full symphony orchestra. At the high school, there are also four orchestras and six choirs. According to Muller, there are 800 students in the district’s high school music program.
Eliza Fitch is quite the busy songbird. She sings in two choirs, starred in “Beauty and the Beast” as Belle and served as student body president. While taking a rehearsal break, we talked on the phone at length, and her enthusiasm came through loud and clear. Like Loring, Fitch also emphasized the great joy in working with many people; there are about 90 students in the concert choir.
She’s been learning to sing classical and folk songs in German, French and Russian, which requires cooperation, listening, patience and many hours of practice. There is also a strong push for performing African choral music with authentic percussion.
For Maxwell Baker, his musical adventure stared at Floyd Light Middle with Mr. Meek on the saxophone. While he did fine on the instrument, when an opportunity came up to volunteer to play the French horn, Baker jumped onboard. “From that moment, he fell in love,” said Deborah, his mother. Transitioning from playing a woodwind instrument to a brass instrument is no mean feat. Each instrument has unique fingering and a totally different embouchure. The saxophone is relatively modern instrument, while the French horn has been around since the Baroque period. Bach composed for the instrument.
Baker said he consistently practices an hour a day to produce a beautiful tone. He’s taken private lessons with Muller since seventh grade. His mom believes that Muller and Brooks-Muller have been an incredible influence in his life, and they are forever grateful to them. Baker plays in wind ensemble under the direction of Brooks-Muller and also participates in marching band and pep band.
Baker said that even though he does not plan to make a career in music, he’ll play horn for life. Knowing music is a difficult path as a career, he will most likely major in business management in college—a blessing for his mom, who is on disability and lives with her extended family.
“We work very hard to make sure our students are well-rounded when they graduate,” said Muller. “So many times students have to choose between their music classes and other areas. We try to make sure students have access to everything. We have student council members, student leaders, athletes, rocket club members and kids that have jobs to help support their families.”
Muller explained that the level of support teachers receive from all levels of administration is unique in his experience. Without this support, it would be impossible to have the music program they have at David Douglas, according to Muller.
Students definitely work hard and start young. The elementary school team has a standardized curriculum that teaches students to read notation and starts to lay the groundwork for performances. Some teachers introduce basic composition. Once in middle school, student’s skills are further developed, and some improvisation is introduced to the kids in jazz bands. By the time students reach high school, expectations are pretty much set, enabling the teachers to push students to higher levels.
David Douglas’ music program has helped produce a number of stars. Brian McWhorter is currently the trumpet professor at the University of Oregon. Kim Williams auditioned and won a position with the Navy Band. Carlton Jackson is a professional drummer in Portland. Gavin Bondy plays trumpet with Pink Martini.