ALTA, Iowa | I savored a front row seat last Wednesday as twins Landan and Levi Paulsen signed national letters of intent to play football at the University of Iowa.
I enjoyed my front row seat a few hours later as the twins played solos for the Woodbury Central High School jazz band in the Morningside College Jazz Festival at Eppley Auditorium.
On Monday, I'll have a front row seat once again -- and you can, too -- as those twins and these twins, Michael and Matthew Swanson, soar through alto sax and trap-set solos, respectively, in the Northwest Iowa District Jazz Band Festival at Le Mars High School in Le Mars, Iowa.
If you like music and high school and middle school musicians, Le Mars is the place to be on Monday. Sit back and enjoy ballads, swing tunes, funk pieces and more from 8 a.m. until around 6 p.m., when the awards ceremony commences. There is no admission charge.
The top two jazz bands in each enrollment class will earn a berth in the prestigious Iowa Jazz Championships, to be held March 31 in Des Moines.
The Swansons might be the jazz band version of the football Paulsens. Actually, the Swansons may be better in their forte. Alta-Aurelia's jazz band has won the last three Class 2A titles at the Iowa Jazz Championships. The trek to the twins' fourth state crown in four years begins early on Monday as Alta-Aurelia starts the slate with an 8 a.m. four-chart show that features a pair of ballads.
"We're ready," Michael Swanson tells me on Friday, moments after the 28-member band concludes a 2 1/2-hour clinic held on a day off from school (due to parent-teacher conferences). "On Monday, our solos must be great. We've got all of our ensemble stuff down."
The solo work begins immediately as director Corbet Butler plans to introduce his band, then step away without counting to lead the band into motion. Instead, Butler relies on senior Matthew Swanson's ability to set the pace.
"I'm starting the show right after Mr. Butler tells people we're from Alta-Aurelia," Matthew says.
While the maneuver is risky, it demonstrates how Butler pushes the envelope for a group driven by 10 musical seniors.
"We'll really attempt to set the bar high and see if others can come get it," says Michael Swanson, Alta-Aurelia's alto sax ace. "We need the judges, at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, to be able to remember that group from 8 a.m."
The Class 2A field promises to be formidable, as it's been for years. It seems Alta-Aurelia and Greg Forney's band from Okoboji High School have a hand in deciding the Class 2A state title for years.
Okoboji, a state title winner multiple times, topped Alta-Aurelia at the district meet one year ago. Butler's unit claimed top honors weeks later in Des Moines, edging Okoboji in the state finals.
Butler says he owes his optimism for a good showing to his musicians.
"If you have kids who prepare and work as hard as these kids do, you should feel confident," he says.
Matthew Swanson admits the group exudes confidence. It also emanates something that's maybe a bit more important.
"We're having fun," he says. "And that's the best thing we can do."