West Jeff musicians perform in All-Ohio State Fair band and choir

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Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Four West Jefferson High School students performed dozens of concerts at this year’s Ohio State Fair. Clara Drummond (left) sang in the All-Ohio State Fair Choir; Graham Gardner, Brent Gardner and Mathew Chmil played in the All-Ohio State Fair Band.

(Posted Aug. 24, 2022)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Four musically inclined students from West Jefferson High School enjoyed a unique and rigorous performance experience at this year’s Ohio State Fair.

Saxophonists Graham Gardner, Brent Gardner and Matthew Chmil were tapped to play in the All-Ohio State Fair Band. Alto singer Clara Drummond landed a spot in the All-Ohio State Fair Choir.

The All-Ohio State Fair Band has been a featured attraction at the Ohio State Fair since 1925. The All-Ohio State Fair Choir was established in 1963. Comprised of high school students from around the state, the groups perform multiple concerts each day of the fair.

The experience starts days before the fair with band and choir members arriving at the Ohio Expo Center & State Fairgrounds for rehearsals. This year, band members put in four 10-hour days learning 80 songs; choir members put in six 12-hour days learning 40 songs. Then came the 12 days of the fair, July 27-Aug. 7, during which they performed for the public dozens of times. Through it all, the students stayed on site in dormitories at the Rhodes Center.

“They get to spend over two weeks with like-minded kids, play a wide variety of music, play a lot, and get a best of the best experience,” said Elmer Broecker, West Jefferson High School’s band director. “Those kids are all there because they love to play and sing.”

Clara Drummond, a junior this year, appreciated everything about it.

“We’re a small school, so we don’t have a big music program. I saw this as an opportunity to have a very different experience singing with a lot of people who love singing as much as I do,” she said.

Clara describes herself as an introvert. She said the time spent with 81 other young vocalists brought her out of her shell. She said she would recommend the adventure to anyone.

“You learn a lot and make best friends for life. You learn more than just music–huge work ethic, how to make friends, and it’s like a trial run for college,” she explained. “I would do anything to do it again.”

She has the chance to do that as students are eligible to apply through one year after they graduate from high school, something Graham Gardner has done.

During the 2022 Ohio State Fair, Gov. Mike DeWine presented 2022 West Jefferson High School graduate Graham Gardner with a $1,000 scholarship from the Ohio State Fair Hall of Fame Band and Choir Scholarship Endowment Fund. Graham is enrolled at The Ohio State University this fall and is majoring in welding engineering.

Graham, who graduated this past spring, has an interesting history with the All-Ohio State Fair Band. He was selected to participate each of the last three years but, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, didn’t get the full experience until this year. In 2020, everything was virtual. Participants played to tracks at home, then organizers pulled together the different parts into a cohesive piece. In 2021, participants met in person for one day, rehearsing in the morning then giving a concert at a church in Columbus in the evening.

“This year, I got two weeks to make friends and finally get that State Fair experience,” said Graham who plays baritone saxophone.

Part of that experience were the shenanigans that happened among the 126 band members during downtime and back at the dormitories.

“It got rowdy after lights-out,” said Brent Gardner, a junior who plays alto saxophone. He described cymbals getting kicked off beds and random sounds, like the Taco Bell bell tone, being broadcast over speakers in the middle of the night.

Graham lost his voice three days into the experience due to his overzealous participation in the marching chants. Mathew Chmil, a sophomore who plays alto saxophone, counts nighttime hide-and-seek in the nearby Ohio Department of Natural Resources park as one of the memorable moments.

Silliness aside, all four West Jefferson students came away with a feeling of camaraderie and respect for their fellow musicians.

“All the people there had a lot of talent, and I was very happy to be a part of it,” Mathew said.

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