Marching band

John Johnson, second from right, and his fellow IHS bandmates made the trek to Leavenworth in September 2019 to participate in the Washington State Autumn Leaf Festival. In normal years, the marching band participates in many events throughout the Pacific Northwest.

ILWACO — Thanks to the covid-19 pandemic, this year’s graduating senior class has spent more time out of the classroom than most, if not all, classes that have come before it. But the pandemic hasn’t deterred Ilwaco High School Senior John Johnson from wanting to make a career out of being in the classroom.

A trumpet player in IHS’ concert, jazz and pep band, as well as a member of the choir, Johnson is attending Washington State University in the fall as a music education major, with plans of becoming a music teacher. He’s also been accepted into the Cougar Marching Band, which makes its presence known at sporting events in Pullman and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

For Johnson, his interest in music and wanting to pursue it as a career is multifaceted.

“It’s fun, and it also teaches you a lot of life skills that you don’t see on the surface,” Johnson said.

He credits IHS music instructor Rachel Lake as someone who’s had a positive influence on him as he prepares to go down this path. “She helped me influence the idea of being a music teacher. Like, hey, I can do this too and still pursue my passion,” Johnson said.

Field trips put on by Lake and the music program are also some of Johnson’s favorite memories from his time at the high school, including trips to Reno and, most notably, DisneyWorld. It took a countless number of hours to raise enough money to go on the trip, he said, but it was worth all of that and more.

“I want to do the same thing when I’m a music teacher,” Johnson said. “I want to do all that cool and crazy stuff with students — I think it’d be fun.”

Over the past four years at IHS, Johnson’s also noticed how he’s evolved as a student and a person. It wasn’t until late in his junior year that he zeroed in on wanting to pursue a career as a music teacher, and over the years he’s matured into the college-bound student he is today.

“I used to get in trouble a lot, but as the years went by I started to mature and not be a little dirtbag,” Johnson said with a laugh.

While in-person music classes have resumed at IHS, the first semester of the school year provided its moments of challenges for Johnson and the class.

“In the first semester we had to record everything,” Johnson said, adding that the recordings had to be pretty much perfect to allow for everyone’s recordings to meld together in the editing process, as if they were all in the same room. “I remember on this one song, I kept messing up the jazz solo and had to do like 30 takes to get it right. That wasn’t very fun, especially playing in my house; I have thin walls — I don’t think they’re very well-insulated — so everybody could hear me.”

But the past year has also challenged the class to get more innovative and find solutions to hurdles and roadblocks posed by the pandemic. Take for example the all-virtual winter concert the music program put on in December, with students separately recording each of the tunes and Lake mixing them together to present to the community.

And when the football season began in February, pep band was back right along with it at the team’s home opener — albeit from a safe distance. It provided a sliver of normalcy in a year that’s been anything but.

“It’s good to see stuff coming back. For a while, I didn’t think any of it was going to come back, and I was like ‘oh well, gotta wait for college I guess.’ But no, now it’s actually starting to come back,” Johnson said.

Before he graduates and prepares to move on into this next phase of his life, Johnson is looking forward to one final wrestling season. Due to covid-19 precautions, the season was pushed back from its traditional winter season to late spring, and is set to get underway next month. And like most wrestlers, he’s already got his eye on having to prepare to make weight.

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