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Orange High School's winter percussion ensemble wins first place in regional championship

OHS Percussion Ensemble Gold Medalists 2024.JPG
Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Johnson.

Orange High School’s winter percussion ensemble won first place at the Atlantic Indoor Association South Championship last Sunday, making the ensemble undefeated in its two-year history.

The championship included 28 schools from across North Carolina, and contestants were scored based on performance, music and artistry. Each ensemble performs three pieces of music and participates in a sight-reading session, according to Jacqueline Johnson, the OHS band director.

OHS’s performance was composed by Stephen Downing, a North Carolina-based teacher and composer. Jack Panning, a senior at OHS and the ensemble's percussion captain, said it was amazing for Downing to compose their piece.

“It allowed us to really have a show that was tailor-made for us,” Panning said. “It was really unique.”

Amanda Panning, Jack's mother, said it was clear that the students’ hearts were in it, and that as a parent, she could feel their enthusiasm.

Jack Panning said the entire group worked very hard and that it felt like a great way to end his time at OHS.

OHS's band program is one of few schools in the area that offer a variety of programs, including winter percussion, Johnson said.The ensemble is an extracurricular group made up of 20 students and is open to all band students regardless of background in percussion.

The ensemble started to compete in the AIA circuit when Johnson took over as band director at OHS two years ago.

“We were kind of thinking, how long is this going to last?” Johnson said. “They've been really successful, but are they going to do it again? And they did, so it's really exciting.”

Johnson said one of her goals is for the band to be visible in the community. 

“I think it's one of the most visible and vibrant activities that students can be a part of, and it also has so much community reach,” Johnson said. “We try to invite the community to events and fundraisers and performances.”

Amanda Panning said the band has an impact on the whole community, not just high schoolers.

She said that recently, the community has recognized the ensemble’s efforts, and the Orange County Schools Board of Education held a special ceremony for the group. 

“They play at the farmers market, they play in community events, and they have an amazing support system and turnout to those events,” Amanda Panning said.

Johnson said she hopes students see the band as a good community. She said maintaining the band and its positive culture is a group effort, and OHS is supportive of the arts.

According to Jack Panning, the band room is an uplifting environment where everyone is looking for opportunities to help each other. Amanda Panning said that Jack goes to this community for support.

“They've really given me a place where I feel like I can thrive and grow, find myself, especially through performance," Jack Panning said. “I feel like I'm able to really express myself.”

Johnson hopes to take the percussion ensemble to a national competition one day. She said she could not be prouder of them and that seeing their progress over the past few years has been incredible.

@DTHCityState |

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