Members of the Elgin High School band pose for a photo prior to a district band competition in La Grande, Ore., in March 2022.

Members of the Elgin High School band pose for a photo prior to a district band competition in La Grande, Ore., in March 2022.

Tucker Murphey

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For the first time in its history, the Elgin High School band will be competing in the state band and orchestra championships. The high school of fewer than 170 students in eastern Oregon includes 7th- and 8th-graders, five of whom were good enough to earn a spot on the 16-member varsity band competing in the state finals on Friday. In 2019, the band came close to earning a trip to the finals but was disqualified for a performance which fell just short of the minimum length required under competition rules. Erika Adams, a senior and band member who plays the flute, joins us, along with Tucker Murphey, the Elgin High School band and choir director.


The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller. The state championships for Oregon’s high school bands and orchestras starts today and for the first time ever, the band from Elgin High School in Union County, north of La Grande will be performing. For more on what this means and how they got there. I’m joined by the Band and Choir Director, Tucker Murphey and Senior and Flautist, Erika Adams. Congrats and welcome to both of you.

Tucker Murphey: Thank you, David. Glad to be here.

Miller: So Tucker, to start with you. I imagine that every year with a different makeup of students, the band has its own character. How would you describe this year’s band?

Murphey: Absolutely. This year’s band is quite young, compared to before COVID hit. I had four seniors, several juniors and a couple of sophomores and then a couple of freshmen. This year. I have, I think, six seventh and eighth graders, quite a few freshmen and two seniors. So it’s kind of flipped upside down.

Miller: Wait. So we call this a high school band and you’re competing in the high school band championships, but you have six seventh and eighth graders?

Murphey: Yes, correct. So in our classification, we compete against other 1-A and 2-A schools combined- not combined, but those are the two classifications we compete against and due to the size of schools, it is really hard to have a high school only band that fields enough kids to make your sound as full as it probably should be. So per OSAA rules we can allow 7th and 8th graders to play with the high school band to help fill out the sound.

Miller:  When you say 1-A those are the state

Murphey: Yeah.

Miller: … Athletic Activity Association categories of meaning meaning the smallest schools, our smallest Districts in the state.

Murphey: That is correct.

Miller: Erika Adams. Why did you want to be in the band in the first place?

Erika Adams:  I have been playing in this band since I was in 6th grade. I was able to join the high school varsity band when I was an eighth grader. I was inspired, not only because I had friends who were doing it, but just because music has always been a really big part of my family and my life, and I just always knew that I wanted to have music involved with my life and as some of my hobbies.

Miller: My understanding is that you actually have two younger sisters in the band now, those are the folks who are among the, effectively the middle schoolers who are in the Band. What’s it like to play with your sisters?

Adams: I do. I have two sisters, one is a flautist with me and the other is one of our lead percussionists and they’re both in high school as well. I love having them with me. I’m really close with my sisters, but it’s just a really good experience, especially because we’re able to critique each other in a way that’s not hurtful, but they tell me how I can improve myself, and we go home and we practice together and it’s not only fun and good to have them there, but it’s really effective for practicing and being able to improve on each of our instruments.

Miller:  Tucker Murphey. You and the band came really close to the finals, to being able to be in the state championships back in 2019, but you couldn’t go because of a technicality. How did you and members of the band handle that?

Murphey: A lot of hurt feelings. One of the technicalities  was twofold. We were under the required 15 minutes of total performance time at our district contest, and the other, we weren’t actually listed, our school wasn’t listed through OSAA as having band as an activity, even though that was just a clerical error. So we were really bummed out but I wasn’t losing anybody due to graduation the following year, which would have been 2020. So we were gearing up to make a run at it and we fixed all the issues that would have prevented us from qualifying then. But of course, like everybody else, we left for Spring Break and never came back due to COVID. So that was a tough pill to swallow.

Miller: What did band practice or band performances… just band itself, everything about it, what happened to it during the pandemic?

Murphey: It was a matter of trying to keep students engaged remotely. I would have playing assignments where they would record either just audio or video and audio of themselves playing a piece and then I would give feedback. We couldn’t obviously play together while schools were not in-person. And then when we came back there was no live performances with an audience. So for one of our winter concerts, we were well social distanced, but we played in the gym and I recorded it and sent the video, I think I posted it to Youtube and sent it out to parents. So we did what we could performance-wise.

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Miller: So even when you could be together, nobody could be with you?

Murphey: That is correct.

Miller: Erika was that hard?

Adams: It definitely was, it was a challenge for all of us. I remember having to close my door to my bedroom because it would be really loud in our house, especially with two other instruments, working on this assignment at once and we’re all trying to master our pieces and send them to him. And then again we’re using school Chromebooks. So the audio could easily be  malfunctioning or a little bit just fuzzy in general. So it was hard, but we had a lot of self improvement. I know I did, and I saw it in all of the students when we came back together.

Miller: What was it like Erika, when you could actually be a band together again, not just a bunch of people in bedrooms, recording music on lackluster laptops?

Adams: It was definitely exciting, not only because we hadn’t seen each other and we’re all friends here, but also because like you said, we hadn’t been together in forever and been able to have a nice full sound and especially with how small our Band has been, it was just exciting to hear that nice big, warm sound again and be able to improve ourselves. Like that was really good and we can still do better.

Miller: Well, let’s have a listen to what you all sound like now. This is a recording that you sent to us, one of the songs from the competition. This is from the district competition, if I’m not mistaken, that sent you to state. We’re going to hear a part of the piece called Highland Legend by John Moss.

Miller: Tucker Murphey, what went through your mind when you heard that you were going to state?

Murphey: Finally. ‘Finally’ would have been the key word there. We’ve been at this level and actually just over the moon because when we didn’t qualify back in 2019, I was determined that we would definitely qualify the following year, and sorry, this gets me choked up because it’s very emotional for me. But when COVID hit and I lost four seniors, I thought the sky was falling. Would the band ever be able to play again at this level? And to have such a young group back in the classroom to compete at, if at the same, if not higher level after all that is very rewarding for me and hopefully for the students.

Miller:  Erika, what’s it been like for you?

Adams: I remember that year when we weren’t able to qualify, I was really disappointed and I remember Mr. Murphey being really disappointed and it hurt me more that our teacher had seen such hopes for us and that we weren’t able to get there because of what seemed to be small reasoning, but it definitely gave us a chance to grow. I was thinking the same thing as well, when our four seniors left, including my older brother, and I did not know if we were gonna able going to be able to play that well again as well, but I’m super excited that these younger kids have really stepped up and given me and my other fellow Senior the chance to go to state as a band.

Miller: We asked folks on Facebook for their memories of competing in high school bands. Bob Drew wrote, ‘I attended school in the late seventies, we participated in all kinds of band competitions, including jazz band, symphonic band, marching band. It was very exciting. Usually we performed one or two prepared pieces and we get great feedback and a letter grade, would also compete on sight reading performing a piece of music we’ve never seen before, it was usually an all day event and a great way to hear other Bands.’ Jeff Reuter shared with us, ‘I was a Drum Major and won the Best Drum Major Award, also making it to the Sweet 16 at the Indiana State Fair, which is the oldest marching competition in the country.’ And Jean Shiffrin wrote, ‘I went to a class A high school, almost everyone was in band. We participated in a statewide marching band event every fall at a state university. It was a wonderful experience.’ Erika, whether you win or lose this competition on Friday morning, what has it meant to you to just be a part of this band?

Adams:  It has meant so much to me, not only because you have the school day and you have your required classes and it can really bring you down at sometimes, but it’s really refreshing to come to band because I know some days I’m like, ‘Oh, my head hurts or something like that,’ and I have to go and play in Band, but I get here and it’s not just being able to grow as a musician, which I have done over the years, but just being able to have fun with the other students and with Mr. Murphey and it’s just been a really good experience. I have never grown this much in a single year, partially because we’ve never been able to qualify for a State, but I’ve never worked on such detailed parts of a song as I have in this year and I have just enjoyed the experience so much.

Miller: You’ve had Tucker Murphey as a Bandleader now since you were in middle school, you’re about to graduate, are you ready to say goodbye?

Adams: I am really looking forward to the future and what it holds. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to have any Band-type classes after this year, so it will be really hard to say goodbye to Mr. Murphey and to the Band, but I’m really hoping that I’ll be able to keep up this talent and be able to come back and say ‘hi’ to Mr. Murphey, or say, ‘I’ve been able to do this and this.’ But yeah, it will definitely be difficult because he has had such a huge influence in my life, not just in class.

Miller: Tucker Murphey, we just have 30 seconds left, but what do you imagine to tell the Band right before they have to start playing on Friday?

Murphey: Right before they… ‘Stay loose, have fun, we… all the preparation that could possibly be done has been done, so have fun out there, and I’m proud of them, regardless what the results are.’

Miller: Tucker Murphey and Erika Adams, thanks so much and congratulations and good luck on Friday.

Murphey: Thank you very much, David.

Adams: Thank you.

Miller: That’s Tucker Murphey, band and choir Director at Elgin High School in Union County and Erika Adams, who was a senior and a flautist in the Elgin High School Band.

Tomorrow on the show, we’re gonna talk to Edwidge Danticat. She is an award winning writer of novels, short stories, essays and memoirs with a focus on the rich experiences of the Haitian diaspora. We’ll talk in front of an audience at Woodburn High School. Thanks very much for tuning in to Think Out Loud on OPB and KLCC. I’m Dave Miller, we’ll be back tomorrow.

Narrator: Think Out Loud is supported by Steve and Jan Oliver, the Rose E. Tucker Charitable Trust and Michael and Kristin Kern.

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