Senior Damon Dahl jokes that he “begged Faul” to get into Jazz Ensemble 1 (Jazz 1).
While not entirely true, Dahl said one of the driving forces for him to want to be in Jazz 1 was the opportunity to get to go to Essentially Ellington, a high school jazz competition and festival in New York.
“There’s nothing better than playing at Essentially Ellington. For a high school band, that’s like, the pinnacle,” Dahl said.
And for Dahl, the experience was well worth it. One of the memories Dahl recalled from Ellington was a banquet, where all the students at Ellington would meet and sit together according to their instrument.
“You get to meet [others] at the table. It’s a little awkward for the first few minutes, but you’re going to have to get over that. And after a while, you just open up,” Dahl said. “You really get to know people and connect.”
Dahl has come a long way from freshman year. For the majority of high school, Dahl was quiet and kept to himself. “Freshman year, sophomore year, junior year, I didn’t talk to anyone at all. I didn’t mess with anybody; I was so quiet. I didn’t want to bother anybody. And now I’m bothering everybody,” he said, laughing.
Dahl was in freshman year when his dad died. Many of the memories Dahl has of him include road trips. “Having trips like that brings anyone together,” Dahl said.
One of the lessons Dahl learned from his dad was how to be courageous.
“He taught me it’s OK to f*** up. Even if it’s really bad, you just have to go through it,” Dahl said. “Don’t be afraid to fail.”
Three and a half years later, Dahl found himself arranging and composing “Flames in the Dark/Mystrious,” a song played at Jazz Alley with a main message of how he internalized his feelings after his dad’s death.
“Death really did change me,” Dahl said. “My dad’s a big part of me. It’s still always going to be a part of me. I can never get over that. You just cope with it.”
While the song wasn’t initially about his dad, over time Dahl changed the song to better express his feelings regarding death. “Flames in the Dark/Mystrious” also incorporates elements of change, personal growth and self-development and features influences from artists like Nathan Nzanga, Thomas Marriott, the Young Blood Brass Band, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Melanie Martinez. Overall, Dahl described the song as being more of a mashup of songs instead of a single one, with two grand pauses distinguishing three different sections of the song apart from each other.
Dahl said he “put the burden of a father-like figure on [band director Darin] Faul” after his dad’s death.
“Day of [my dad’s] funeral, Faul was there… I still remember that day like it was yesterday. He shook my hand and just left,” Dahl recalled. “He took time out of his day, put on his nice suit, to be there, even if it was just for a minute. It really did mean a lot to me.”
While Dahl’s experience in band has led to “life-changing” possibilities and opportunities opening up for him, being in band has taught Dahl “to be considerate of others. Especially being respectful of how others are. Because not everyone has the same skill level; we have a very diverse group [in terms of skill level].”
Over the years, Dahl has learned how to be humble, and that’s taught him to see past age – particularly in addressing concerns over the opportunities opened to people because of seniority. “[Freshmen are] the most overlooked people, because their lack of experience seizes their opportunity to teach other people.”
One such freshman Dahl brought up is drummer Josh Setala, who recently made it into Jazz 1.
“When I met [Setala], I was like, ‘I hate this dude.’ … He has such a diverse skill set… After I really started to get to know him, I really got to start to realize that it doesn’t really matter if you’re a senior,” Dahl said.
And for Dahl’s advice for incoming freshmen: “Don’t put up with all the seniors’ s***. Not every senior knows their stuff.”
As graduation draws closer, Dahl has come to a more reminiscent attitude towards his experience in jazz.
“After high school, I feel like I’m going to really cherish these moments, because we all share a common ground: Music,” Dahl said.
While Dahl doesn’t entirely know what he wants to pursue after high school, he does know he’ll continue playing music.
“Over the summer, I’m hopefully going to look into Edmonds Community College and get my prerequisites done,” Dahl said, “and work on my music. Definitely. For sure. Yeah, that’s what I’m planning to do. I have no idea what’s going to happen over the summer… You just have to move on. It’s the next chapter of my life.”
Growing up, Dahl found himself unable to fit into a cookie-cutter group, something he still finds happening now.
“Think of it like this: There are always popular people. And then there are people who are followers. I can try to merge myself in there, but I will always stand out,” Dahl said. “It’s just the way that I am. Like, I can always change to be like that, [but] I’m never going to be happy like that.”
Dahl’s racial identity is mixed as both black and white. “It’s very hard to find a common place [with others] because you’re not the same race,” Dahl said. “Around here, there’s not that many people who have the same common place as I do.”
For Dahl, many of the people he interacts with are adults. He said he’s better able to communicate with adults “because not a lot of people, especially this age, understand diversity. And that creates a lot of adversity.”
While change and coping with change has been a huge part of Dahl’s life, he’s not going to change completely for any purposes other than his own.
“You won’t ever be able to get to know yourself, like, really know yourself, if you try to be someone else,” Dahl said. “Because there’s only one person in the world who is like you, and that is you.”