Westbrook High School freshman Manasse Mavungu plays the vibraphone during a jazz ensemble rehearsal last week. Chance Viles / American Journal

The Westbrook High School Jazz Ensemble has received high honors at two recent competitions showing they are still in the swing of things despite the lengthy lull caused by the pandemic.

The extracurricular jazz ensemble features instruments not found in typical band programs, including guitar. Chance Viles / American Journal

The ensemble won an Outstanding Musicianship award at the University of New Hampshire Clark Terry Jazz Festival a few weeks back and a gold medal at The Maine Music Educators State Jazz Festival at Hampden Academy March 18-19, where senior saxophonist Maxim LaPlante also received the Dale Huff Award for Outstanding Musicians.

Band Director Kyle Smith is proud of what his students have accomplished following a year and a half without regular band classes and group practice because the pandemic. They had the chemistry and prowess needed to take the top honors, he said.

Senior Angelina DiBiase said the awards were “surprising,” after the two-year break, but they gave her and other ensemble members a real confidence boost. They were prepared for the competitions, she said, but they didn’t expect to win.

“We wanted to have fun, and we’re super happy to get the reward we got,” DiBiase said. 

Junior Gwen Chayers agreed, and said it was nice to perform again.


It was really exciting to be able to see so many great musicians and be in one place with anyone,” Chayers said.

Smith said the pandemic’s toll on his students’ skill levels is noticeable and it will take time for the ensemble to get to the level it otherwise would have already achieved. Still, he said, “the judges were really impressed with how they played. ”

The jazz ensemble at a practice last week. Chance Viles / American Journal

“While the students are getting accolades for their strong performances,  we want to remind people it’ll take a long time to rebuild,” he said. 

The high school used to have two jazz bands, divided according to skill level, prior to the pandemic, but now there is one.  Overall enrollment in the high school band program has dropped 38%, and participation in the extracurricular Jazz Ensemble has decreased as well.

“So seeing us, seeing our parades, (people) have to realize it might not be like it was, it’ll take some years to get that going,” Smith said.

He said he looks forward to more competitions and performances for his students, now that the band program is able to be fully back in action.

“Our Jazz ensemble will be playing at Together Days this year, which we are really excited for, that is going to be huge,” Smith said.

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