CKHS saxophone quintet places first in state

CKHS student musicians Karsten Onarheim, Ariana Becker, Jasmine Borja, Johnny Cota and Kylah Coulter were awarded the title of first place in the Large Woodwinds ensemble category at the Washington Solo and Ensemble Contest


Central Kitsap School District

(Left to Right): Ariana Becker, Karsten Onarheim, Johnny Cota, Dave Carson, Jasmine Borja and Kylah Coulter stand for a picture following the first-place title being awarded to their quintet (from CKSD Facebook).

by Rosalie Johnson, Reporter, Assistant Editor

Each year, the Washington Solo and Ensemble Contest is held on the last Friday and Saturday of April in Ellensburg, Washington to create and provide higher-level musical experiences for student musicians around the state. Different genres and sizes of solo and ensemble groups compete and are scored, and depending on their performance, move forward in the competitive process. Once competitors make it to the state level, they perform in Ellensburg, Washington and are given the title of first, second or third place.

This year, in the 2022 season, Central Kitsap High School’s saxophone quintet successfully made their way through this process and was awarded first place standing in the Large Woodwinds ensemble category. Seniors Karsten Onarheim and Ariana Becker, juniors Jasmine Borja and Johnny Cota and sophomore Kylah Coulter formed this quintet under the guidance of a private lessons instructor they share.

Though all five members currently play the saxophone in the CKHS band, few started their band career with it. In fact, junior Jasmine Borja doesn’t consider saxophone to be her “first” instrument.

“I actually started on the clarinet in fifth grade and then brought in the saxophone in seventh grade, so sax is my second instrument,” she explained. “I did play sax through middle school, high school jazz and wind ensemble.”

Similarly, after playing the clarinet since fifth grade, senior Karsten Onarheim “started playing saxophone in seventh or eighth grade but didn’t take it seriously until [he] started taking lessons in ninth grade.”

After the members’ introductions to the saxophone instrument and participation in private lessons outside of school, the four oldest members – Onarheim, Becker, Borja and Cota – formed a quarter under their common private instructor Dave Carson last school year (2020-2021) with the goal of reaching state-level solo and ensemble competitions. When the Solo and Ensemble Contest was canceled due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, Onarheim recalls that the quartet was “disappointed but [they] pushed through” and remained a group throughout the following school year.

As the quartet continued to rehearse, they collectively decided alongside their instructor Carson to include another member: “[Carson] added Kylah Coulter to put us in the large woodwinds category,” Borja stated.

The quintet rehearsed and performed the same song that they had been working towards perfecting since the previous year: “Reed Between the Limes.”

Onarheim found that continuing to practice the same song aided in relieving some performance-induced stress, especially as the previous school year – despite its academic and social challenges – presented a “more flexible rehearsal schedule” for the members to rehearse on their own time and plan in-person rehearsals.

This long-term rehearsal period “meant that by the time of regional Solo and Ensemble we were pretty much just addressing the new member and adding the finishing touches,” he elaborated.

The transition from quartet to quintet, though exciting, proved to be challenging.

“Being a team was sort of difficult. We are all passionate musicians but we all like to take leadership roles so there were a lot of different interpretations of the music or how we should run rehearsals, but in the end we worked together and our drive to make the piece perfect took us to state,” Borja explained.

Traveling to Ellensburg for the state competition is nearly a two hour drive, but Borja and Onarheim both found it to be worth the trip.

Going to state Solo and Ensemble was a great experience. Everyone who makes it there is excited about music, so the atmosphere is super cool. Plus, you get to hear all kinds of different groups and soloists perform the music they’ve been working on for months or more,” Onarheim reflected. “When we were getting close to our performance, Dave [Carson] rehearsed our group one last time to make sure we remembered all the important details, and we stepped out there and played our best performance.”

The passion from the culmination of the efforts over the past two years resulted in a performance that gave them the title of first in state for a large woodwind ensemble. This victory left the quintet members with senses of pride, exhilaration and joy as they achieved this title together as a community.

The most memorable experience was being told we won. It was just such a happy moment,” Borja recalled.

Onarheim echoed Borja’s sentiments, expressing that “the applause of our friends and families [filling] the room after our performance was just the best feeling imaginable.”

According to Onarheim, Solo and Ensemble Contests provide opportunities for student musicians to showcase their skills and experience other student musician performances to broaden their musical cultural scope, serving as “an excellent way to bring skilled musicians together so they can connect” over their shared overarching love and passion of music.

“I do believe that music, regardless of competition, brings people together,” Borja finalized. “I think different genres and performances create communities, and this music connects everyone because almost everyone loves music.”