Neah-Kah-Nie band faces the music, rises to challenge

“They were yelling and screaming and happy-cheering,” Neah-Kah-Nie Band instructor Russell Zaugg says of the fifth place finish the band took at the school’s first ever state band competition. “They’re good, dedicated students with drive and desire. They want to do their best.”

For the first time in Neah-Kah-Nie High School history, band has gone to the state competition.
The Pirate band looted a fifth place finish May 11 after competing in the 1A/2A OSAA state competition at the LaSells Stewart Center at Oregon State University.
By Jordan Wolfe
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“We were just so excited,” 13-year NKN band instructor Russell Zaugg said, “The students worked super hard this year and really became good players. We have a good core, especially juniors, who have great musicianship and stay cool under pressure.”
NKN competed as one of the top eight bands in the state.
“To go to state band, we had to compete in the Northwest Band Festival in Jewell,” Zaugg said, “Jewell took first, we took second. The rules say any band who has state qualifying scores can be considered. We sent a recording in to the tape pool – even though we don’t use tapes anymore, it’s more like an mp3 pool – and we were accepted.”
Zaugg’s band of 25 students is full of dedicated musicians who know expression, how to stay in tune and when to watch their conductor, he said.
“They’re good, dedicated students with drive and desire,” Zaugg said, “They want to do their best.”
It hasn’t always been like this, however.
“In a small school district, there’s not a lot of students and sometimes you don’t have the instrumentation you need,” Zaugg said. “There were several years when there would be five, six, seven students in the high school band.

Not surprisingly, it’s difficult to compete with half a dozen students.
“We pushed beginning band and got that working correctly,” Zaugg said, “It wasn’t until three years ago we broke 30 students, which was just amazing for this school.”
Since landing at NKN, Zaugg’s goal has never been to take top accolades from competitions.
“Going to state isn’t the be all, end all,” he said, “But it’s validation I am teaching the right things and I’m not just in the classroom in my own little world.”
In preparation for this year’s competitions, Zaugg brought in legendary conductor John Hammond, who taught at both Neah-Kah-Nie and Tillamook school districts before taking the helm of Warrenton’s band program – a program he took first place in state with before retiring.
“He did a clinic,” Zaugg said, “I saw this master band teacher and I took page after page of notes. He pushed us to a higher level.”
That higher level gave them the opportunity to compete against the best eight bands at the state level.
“We were just happy to be there,” Zaugg said, “There are some fantastically amazing bands out there.”
With a strong core of juniors advancing to their final year of high school band, Zaugg promises to return to the state level and compete again next year – especially after the reaction the students had after learning they placed fifth in the state.
“They were yelling and screaming and happy-cheering,” Zaugg said. “We’re stepping up and planning more festivals and encouraging kids to come out for band.”
The band was able to beef up its stable of instruments in 2017 with a $10,000 boost from NKN School District and Manzanita Music Festival donations, which allowed the band program to purchase new tenor and baritone saxophones and percussion instruments like a timpani.
“It shows the district has support of the program,” Zaugg said. “My biggest concern is continuing to get the equipment we need… it takes a lot of money to run a band program.”
For more information or to donate, contact Neah-Kah-Nie High School, 503-355-2272 or send a check payable to Neah-Kah-Nie School District with NKN Band in the memo line.
“I really appreciate the community support,” Zaugg said. “I love music and I love working with students… it’s a wonderful way to make a difference in others’ lives.”