Clark College welcomes jazz festival

The power of music may prove a life-changing pursuit

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith



Clark College music student Shelley Perry, 49, volunteers at the jazz festival. "You play what you're in the mood to play," she says. "Sometimes the mood is jazz."

John Morud-Williamson, 17, from left, Josh Peltz, 14, Taylor Griffin, 14, Quin McIntire, 14, and Colescott Rubin, 16, of Portland, members of the American Music Program's Thara Memory ensemble, watch a band perform during the annual Clark College Jazz Festival on Saturday. The jazz group, which draws from the Portland metro area, performed in exhibition at the festival.

A young jazz musician playing at the Clark College Jazz Festival explains what draws him to music.

There’s something intimidating about seeing a newly licensed driver play an upright bass. A Graham-Kapowsin High School student’s saxophone solo sends chills up the spine.

More than 60 middle and high school instrumental jazz ensembles competed Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the 51st Annual Jazz Festival at Clark College.

We know these young musicians are good — scary good — but who are the maestros behind the three-day music festival? Who pulls all the strings to make it happen?

Behind the full house of adoring parents and restless students waiting in collared shirts is festival volunteer and Clark College music major Shelley Perry. The 49-year-old Clark College freshman sits at the front entrance to Gaiser Hall, welcoming people to the festival, and listening to the muffled sounds of jazz.

“These kids are like professionals,” she says.

Perry admits some of the students are more talented than she is, but she trumps these music darlings in life experience.

Sometimes, it’s that life experience that drives the music.

After moving through the Navy, the Air Force Reserve and the International Guard, having four children and going through three divorces, she says, she’s built up a strong work ethic.

“I’ve stayed with music wherever I’ve been,” she said.

While enlisted in the armed forces, Perry led a chapel music program and taught piano lessons part-time. Going back to school to pursue music was always in the back of her mind, but the money just wasn’t there.

She was accepted into a veteran training assistance program that allowed her to focus on school full-time while receiving a stipend. She also won scholarships with the music department. Primarily she plays the flute but also dabbles in piano, guitar and vocals.

“I’m having the time of my life,” she says.

After graduation, Perry plans to major in music therapy at Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego, Ore.

“Music therapy is an up-and-coming career for musicians,” says Richard Inouye, director of bands at Clark College.

Perry looks to work with the elderly and those with disabilities. She’s pursuing music therapy because she likes to help people. Music, after all, helped her.

“My self esteem has gone up several notches since I’ve been here,” she said.

She’s grateful for her music professors and her fellow students — young and old — who encourage her to keep doing what she loves.

So long as she’s a student at Clark College, she says, she’ll volunteer at the jazz festival.

The event attracts about 1,200 students from the Pacific Northwest and Canada, along with an estimated 3,000 parents and community members. This year, nationally recognized music educators and performers give feedback to the bands following each performance. Inouye says the 20-minute clinics are part of the college’s effort to shift the focus of the festival from competition to education.

The Columbian will publish the results of the competition when they become available.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513;