St. Olaf News
A jazz program that’s going places
March 16, 2016
Five Minnesota kids with a passion for jazz didn’t have to go far to find a college where they could hone their skills with a nationally recognized ensemble.
Now that ensemble is taking them even farther — all the way to Cuba.
Sophie Dahedl ’18, Simon Broccard ’18, Henry Huber ’17, Peter Smith ’19, and Weber Anderson ’18 are all members of the St. Olaf Jazz ensemble that will embark on a tour to Cuba this month. In addition to performing a series of concerts in Havana and Matanzas, members of the jazz band will have the opportunity to work with Cuban jazz artists and play alongside local ensembles.
These five students have something else in common: They all participated in Minnesota Youth Jazz Bands (MYJB) during high school. MYJB are auditioned jazz bands of Twin Cities–area high school students. Band members rehearse weekly, perform throughout the year, and record a CD.
“MYJB gives high school students a chance to play professional-level music in a college-level band while they’re still in high school,” says the program’s director, David Mitchell.
The St. Olaf College students say participating in MYJB was a valuable, confidence-building experience.
“It raised my expectations of myself,” says Dahedl.
Quitting music after graduating from Eastview High School in Apple Valley was not an option for Dahedl, but she didn’t want to major in music.
“I was looking for a college that had a strong music program, specifically a music program that allowed non-majors to participate as much as the music majors,” she says.
She, like the others, landed at St. Olaf — where the jazz program, led by Dave Hagedorn, has been making a national name for itself.
St. Olaf has three jazz bands: St. Olaf Jazz, Jazz II, and Jazz III, each with about 21 members. Hagedorn challenges the band by exploring a wide range of jazz genres like swing, bebop, fusion, funk, salsa, and Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and New Orleans grooves.
“I really enjoy playing challenging music in the band. With so many other great players, the possibilities for what we can accomplish are immense,” Huber says. “I also especially like hearing Dave’s stories about a song we’re playing, a composer, or just an interesting story from his gig the night before.”
Music was an important part of the college search for these students, but it was not the only factor in their decision to come to St. Olaf.
“I saw St. Olaf as a place where I would never feel that a passion of mine could ever be squandered or suffocated, and that I could pursue what I wanted to with my full capacity,” says Smith, a Stillwater Area High School graduate who is majoring in chemistry and Spanish.
Students can pursue all of their diverse interests at St. Olaf College. A wide range of academic programs and courses, and plenty of engaging student groups and activities make an Ole’s life rich and rewarding. (Not to mention busy.)
Music, campus culture, rigorous academics, and ample study abroad opportunities factored into the college decision for all five students.
“I like the fact that students here are well-rounded and there is a strong sense of community,” says Broccard, a graduate of Kennedy High School in Bloomington who is majoring in chemistry at St. Olaf.
These students have found a special community in St. Olaf Jazz.
“There’s a more relaxed sense of community and a unique closeness among St. Olaf Jazz players,” Dahedl says. The closeness and small size of the band allow players to make stylistic suggestions to improve the band’s sound.
In Cuba, they will become even closer. These students are looking forward to a cultural and musical exchange, as well as learning new styles and techniques.
“I’m looking forward to a completely different culture and a totally new music scene,” Broccard says.