Third year Band Director Spencer Hile puts joy above all else in leading his students in band and jazz band at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.

Soloist Jack Obrebski and the Hersey Jazz Band at Jazz in the Meadows (All photos from District 214)

“I want them to be authentically having fun and enjoy playing music — so there’s joy in the room,” Hile says.

Going into last month’s Jazz in the Meadows Festival at Rolling Meadows High School, he and his two jazz bands talked extensively about their goals going into it — and it wasn’t about winning.

“The most important thing is that jazz is not about winning,” Hile said. “It’s not about competition. It’s about making art, making music and learning and growing from collaborating together, and working hard so that the sounds are good and organic.”

His students bought into his philosophy — but they still won the title anyway, tying with Beloit Memorial High School, for the festival’s top award of being named Grand Champion.

Brothers Elliott Hile, left, band director at Rolling Meadows High School and Spencer Hile, band director at Hersey

Ironically, Hersey and its director won the title at Rolling Meadows, where his brother, Elliott Hile is the new band director. The two grew up in Highland Park, where their mother is a music education professor and their father is a music teacher and band director. Is it any wonder they now are inspiring young musicians, in Northwest Suburban High School District 214?

In reflecting on the rare tie for first place, Hile said simply: “I think the judges thought the strengths of our bands were the soloists and how they improvised.”

Hersey’s second ensemble — led by former Wheeling High School Band Director Brian Logan — also took first place in the High School Second Band Class. Both Hersey bands featured multiple students playing solos, including two who won outstanding soloists awards: Junior Jack Obrebski on the flugelhorn and Jacob Boba on percussion, in Hersey’s second band.

Hersey’s outstanding soloists, Jack Obrebski, left, and Jacob Boba

“Jacob played a super complex drum set solo, which displayed great technique, layered with polyrhythms and lots of creative ideas,” Hile says. “It was really spectacular.”

Hersey’s first band played only two selections, “The Pretty Road,” by Grammy Award-winning artist Maria Scheider, and “Oleo,” a jazz standard by Sonny Rolands. Jack soloed on his flugelhorn, which jazz fans would remember from Chuck Mangione. In “Oleo,” he was one of seven soloists and at one point there was a whole section that didn’t have written music, leading the entire ensemble to improvise.

“It was incredibly complex and demanding,” Hile said, “and Jack had to improvise on top of that.”

Ironically, Hile adds, his jazz band had only rehearsed “Oleo” for a little more than two weeks before Jazz in the Meadows, and yet there they were playing it in the finals. Playing “Oleo,” with all of its unwritten parts and featuring soloists on their own, bears out Hile’s philosophy.

“It showcases students that are serious about their music — through improvisation,” he says, “and just having fun.”


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