8th graders

8th Grader Information about the New Trier Jazz Ensemble Program

This page is designed to answer the most FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS about joining the FRESHMAN JAZZ ENSEMBLE, or being a participant in the New Trier Jazz program.

Before reading the F.A.Q., please read through the "Why Study Jazz at New Trier" document. 

If your question is not answered here, send Mr. Meyer an email and he will answer it ASAP.  meyern@nths.net



Q 1. How many students participate in the Freshman Jazz Ensemble? 

A. The size of the Freshman Jazz Ensemble has ranged over the years from 20 to 35. A typical size jazz ensemble (such as our other three New Trier jazz ensembles) has 5 saxes, 4 or 5 trombones, 4 or 5 trumpets, plus the rhythm section. With the exception of rhythm players, we try to accept everyone into Freshman Jazz Ensemble who plays trumpet, trombone or saxophone, but auditions may be necessary if there are too many of a particular instrument to make the playing experience both musical and worthwhile. When there are auditons, they are done by making a recording (not live).  

Q 2. How many students are in the NT Jazz Studies Program? 

A.  The upperclass jazz ensembles each have the more standard instrumentation listed above. When we add an extra person on each of the rhythm section instruments, the upperclass jazz ensembles then have approximately 25 members. This means that we have around 100 students enrolled in our four curricular jazz ensembles. 

Q 3.  My son/daughter wants to play in the Freshman Orchestra. Is that an option? 

A.  There are no brass, woodwind or percussion players in Freshman Orchestra. It is a "string only" class. They will have to wait until they come to the Winnetka campus to get that experience in Concert Orchestra or Symphony Orchestra. MANY jazz students are in the orchestras on the Winnetka campus. 

Q 4. Are there auditions for pianists, drummers, bass players and guitarists?

A. Sometimes.... it depends on how many of each of these instruments are enrolled in the class as of mid-April.  We can accommodate three pianists, two bassists, three drummers, and two guitarists. If more than those numbers are enrolled, then an audition is necessary. Bass players are the least likely to be auditioned since there are so few.

Q 5. Why can't you take all the rhythm section players who want to join like you do wind players? 

A.  Since the group only performs three or four musical selections per concert, if we take more rhythm instruments than that, it would mean that a student would go for months without playing in a concert. There also can be as many as 10 guitarists or drummers on any given year that want to join Freshman Jazz Ensemble. If we took everyone and only one drummer can play at a time during rehearsals, a student might only play once a week! This wouldn't be fair to anyone. 

Three is our limit of pianos we can fit in our rehearsal rooms. The same is true of guitar amps. We can handle only so many guitarists playing at one time per amplifier before it is just not a musical experience for anyone. 

We believe we accommodate more students in our jazz program than any public school in the country. 

Q 6. If a rhythm section player does not "make it" for Freshman Jazz Ensemble, can they re-audition the following year?

A. Absolutely. 

Q 7. Are there auditions for saxophones, trombones or trumpets to get into Freshman Jazz Ensemble? 

A. Sometimes auditions are necessary if there are too many of a particular instrument to make the performance experience musically and educationally worthwhile. 

Q 8.  How would my son or daughter know if they have to have an audition on a rhythm instrument, and what would the audition consist of?

A.  All students enrolled in Freshman Jazz Ensemble will be contacted in March to determine instrumentation. If auditions are needed, those students affected will be notified.

Q 9.  What is the "concurrent enrollment" policy and why does it exist?

A. The concurrent enrollment policy in the Music Department has been the policy in most of the following classes listed below at New Trier since the 1960s, and is the norm not only in North Central Suburban schools but also nationally. Students are not required to participate in the classes that require concurrent enrollment, but chose to do so out of a desire to receive additional instruction or a more advanced, well-rounded music education.

Music Department Ensembles Requiring Concurrent Enrollment           

  • Membership in the Symphony or Chamber Orchestras for wind and percussion players requires students to also be enrolled in a concert band or wind ensemble.
  • Membership in the Chamber Orchestra for string players requires students to also be enrolled in the Symphony Orchestra.
  • Membership in the Swing Choir requires students to also be enrolled in any other mixed choir.
  • Membership in any jazz ensemble requires students to also be also enrolled in a band (for wind and percussion players) or orchestra (for bass players). Pianists and guitarists are exempt from this requirement since music is not regularly published or available for those instruments in a band or orchestra.


A young musician-in-training learns the basic knowledge of musicianship, balance, blend, traditional music notation, Western-European classical performance styles, more advanced keys, more advanced metric meters, and characteristic tone production in a large ensemble such as concert band, orchestra, or traditional mixed choral ensemble. 

Performance skills unique to jazz, such as improvisation or playing with the jazz inflection associated with vocal or instrumental jazz music, are not usually or best taught in large ensembles. Therefore, a jazz ensemble or Swing Choir is a smaller performance ensemble that focuses on specialized instruction rather than the development of the basic skills listed above. Participating in a jazz ensemble or Swing Choir has the students take the basic skills they learn in a large ensemble to those smaller groups to adapt those skills to performance in a jazz style. 

Orchestra is the primary class for string players who wish to develop ensemble performance skills for developing mastery of the orchestral repertoire for their own enjoyment or a possible career in music.  For a string player to have a complete understanding of their instrument in the context of music history, playing in an orchestra is essential for their development. It is then necessary for the development of the orchestral string player to receive a “full orchestra” experience as part of their formative education. 

Symphony and Chamber Orchestra classes provide an additional opportunity for wind and percussion players, but traditional orchestral music often requires them to perform less frequently during a particular piece of music (or rehearsal) than they would when playing a piece of music studied by a concert band or wind ensemble. In fact, time in an orchestra class is often spent teaching and developing the string section rather than teaching fundamental wind or percussion performance skills that are more readily taught in a concert band. Therefore, while a wind and percussion player can elect to enrich their ensemble experience by participating in an orchestra ensemble, they must be concurrently enrolled in a band or wind ensemble to learn fundamental skills.

Q 10. Can a flute (or clarinet) player join Freshman Jazz Ensemble?

A.  The short answer is yes and no.  Yes, if that person also plays saxophone, and no, if that person only plays the flute (or clarinet). The reason is that published music for jazz ensembles of ninth grade ability level almost never have flute parts. If there are flute parts they are played by members of the saxophone section. 

At the junior high school level it is common for directors to take everyone who wants to play in a jazz ensemble. This could include clarinetists, oboists, etc. At the high school level it is the norm for those players to also play (or double on) saxophone. In fact, before a saxophone player can even be considered for our Jazz Ensemble I they must be able to play either the clarinet or flute in addition to mastering their saxophone. Colleges regularly require saxophonists to double on another woodwind instrument before they will be allowed to audition for a jazz ensemble. Saxophonists who double on another woodwind instrument are better prepared for post-high school success.

Q 11.  How hard is the music in Freshman Jazz Ensemble? How much will I have to practice to keep up?

A.  The difficulty of the music depends on the ability of the students in any given year. In general, we begin the year with "grade 3" music similar to what you played in junior high school. As the year progresses our goal is to perform at least one "grade 4" selection on the Spring Jazz Concert.

If you are someone who likes to practice your instrument and you were successful at playing the music performed at your junior high school, then you will be very successful at New Trier in the Music Department. A person who doesn't practice outside of class time will not be successful in ANY school music group ANYWHERE. Natural talent will only take a young player so far. Home practice helps a student to not only keep up, but excel... thus having more fun and contributing to advancement of the entire group!

Q 12. How strong of a player should a person be to join the Freshman Jazz Ensemble?

A. The most important traits of a successful member in any New Trier music ensemble is a positive attitude with a willingness to learn (teachable) and try new musical concepts. Students with outstanding performance abilities will not succeed if they do not have a positive, helpful, and teachable attitude.

Having said that... a student will be required to practice at home. The music that is performed in our groups is just too difficult to learn only in class. Home practice and the help of a private teacher will go far to being successful in the New Trier Music Department.

By the middle of the first quarter, most students in past Freshman Jazz Ensembles practiced five or six times a week, and probably thirty minutes per practice session. Many students who did not practice much in junior high school find themselves to be more motivated at high school and raise their quantity and quality of home practice.

Q 13. How many concerts are there each year?

A.   We have three major concerts a year. The Fall Jazz Concert is usually the first or second Friday in December; the New Trier Jazz Festival is usually the first Saturday in February; and the Spring Jazz Concert is always the second or third Friday in April.

Attendance at these concerts is required for successful participation. In fact, according to longstanding music department policy, a student who has an unexcused absence from a concert will have their quarter grade lowered. Concerts are our "laboratory" or "final exams" and these experiences (or experiments) can never be replicated in the classroom. A complete performance schedule is distributed the first week of class in all music groups.

There may be additional performances added, but each will be done so with a considerable amount of class discussion and advanced notice.

Q 14. When does Freshman Jazz Ensemble rehearse?

A. We rehearse every school day for one 40-minute period during "third period."  We have no conflicts with before or after school clubs or sports. In fact, many of the members of New Trier's jazz ensembles are very successful members of the school's sports teams, or afterschool activities.

Q 15. If my child decides not to take Freshman Jazz Ensemble, but decides to take jazz in sophomore year, will he or she be able to get in?

A. If a student improves and is equal in ability to his/her Freshman jazz peers who were in Freshman Jazz Ensemble, they could be in the sophomore jazz ensemble (Concert Jazz Ensemble) when they become a sophomore. 

The short answer is... it is far better to start out in the jazz program as a Freshman than to join later since we learn a LOT of very important basic skills in Freshman Jazz Ensemble that can't be learned outside of class. 

Q. 16. I am a guitarist and mostly play by TAB rather than reading music. Is that a problem.?

A. This will be a problem, but one you can begin addressing now. TAB is NOT conventional music notation and anyone's ability to succeed in a musical organization such as Freshman Jazz Ensemble is based partly on your ability to read music.  We strongly suggest only taking lessons from a private guitar teacher who teaches conventional music notation. 


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