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Playing his way to Utah

McNary High School senior Alex Hunter is headed to the University of Utah as a music education major on a full-ride scholarship. (Submitted)
McNary High School senior Alex Hunter is headed to the University of Utah as a music education major on a full-ride scholarship. (Submitted)

Of the Keizertimes

Next fall, McNary High School senior Alex Hunter is headed to the University of Utah, but neither he nor his family will be worried about footing the bill.

Hunter, a valedictorian and trombone player in the Celtic band, symphony and jazz band, netted a full-ride academic scholarship from U of U and numerous local scholarship awards that will help cover the various extraneous costs like books and fees.

“I started applying in November, but I already had a number of them prepared before the opening date,” Hunter said. “The biggest thing was just planning to apply because it meant I didn’t have to scramble once I got accepted.”

As a music education major, Hunter had the added task of auditioning for several of the colleges he hoped to attend.

“You have to prepare solos or etudes (short, difficult compositions) to be considered, but I got the chance to visit Utah and take a lesson from one of their faculty members. I really enjoyed that and meeting some of the other faculty,” Hunter said. He hopes to do graduate work in jazz performance.

Hunter started playing trombone in the fifth grade, and found something in it that spoke to him.

“No matter how I’m feeling, I can go pick up my horn and play and it comes out in the music,” Hunter said. “It’s really comfortable.”

Of course, he had the same struggles the many beginning music students face: finding the will to practice.

“For the longest time, the hardest part was opening the case and pulling out my instrument, but by the end of freshman year something had changed. I realized I wasn’t working as hard as I could at it and decided to give it more. That was the point practicing became more like just playing to play. It was no longer a chore,” Hunter said.

In addition to working with three high school music groups, Hunter takes private lessons in Portland and spends a not inconsiderable amount of time simply listening to other players. Stan Bock, his private lesson tutor, Carl Fontana, Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and JJ Johnson are a few of his most recent influences.

“With some of the older stuff, I can spend hours looking for a single recording,” Hunter said.

Combining rigorous academic work and practice was rarely a hurdle for Hunter, who said he likes to push himself whenever he can. The highlight of his time as a Celtic was the band’s third place finish at the state competition in May.

“Being a drum major, I really enjoyed that,” he said. “We gelled as a group and our senior class had been playing together since the fifth grade. Even the ones that went to Claggett Creek Middle School we were friends before we got there. It was truly like a family.” Hunter attended Whiteaker Middle School.

Classmates, he said, contributed as much as teachers to his musical education.

“With every group, you can come in with one opinion and end up totally changed by the end of practice. It made me a lot more well-rounded,” he said.

Hunter is prepared to meet the various challenges in store for him head-on. He’s actually more than a little excited at the prospect of it all.

“The Utah campus is right next to the mountains, I get to show up early and practice with the band before school is even open, I’ll get to travel with the football team. It’s all really exciting, but I’m most looking forward to a fresh start without having to go backward,” he said.