Dynamic Student Duo Leads River Ridge High School Band



By Katie Doolittle

hanson motors sponsorYou might say music was his birthright.

Seventeen-year-old DJ Severson’s parents had already planned to name their son Dylan to honor singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. Then, two months before he was born, Jerome John “Jerry” Garcia of the Grateful Dead died—hence his middle name, Jerome. Severson describes his parents as devoted Dead Heads. “We pretty much have a shrine for (the band) at our house,” he shares.

river ridge high school
DJ Severson, who serves as the senior drum major for the River Ridge High School band, is an accomplished musician, playing seven instruments.

Perhaps some young musicians would crumble under the weight of such a legacy-laden name. Not Severson. He’s already built his own reputation amongst peers at River Ridge High School. During a recent class presentation, someone asked how many instruments he plays. Severson counted seven: the piano, saxophone, ukulele, banjo, guitar, mandolin, and harmonica.

Yet when you ask Severson about music, he remains focused on his process rather than his product. In fact, one of the highlights of his musical life thus far has been the evening he spent alone in his room, teaching himself to play the guitar and harmonica simultaneously. “I’m not used to guitar picks, so the front of my finger hits the strings. And I always felt a slight sting, but nothing bad, you know?” It was only after he finished playing that Severson opened his eyes and realized there was dried blood on his finger. Even so, he describes that solitary jam session as “one of the most amazing things ever.”

Of course, Severson also performs publicly. Through a youth program, he’s played piano at several reception dinners at the governor’s mansion. He’s also heavily involved with the River Ridge High School Band, a highly engaged group that participates in 40 to 50 public performances a year. Those performances range from sharing morning jazz in the school cafeteria to providing pep music at assemblies and sporting events. The band’s often out in the local community, too, playing at various events such as the Duck Dash or Lacey Spring Fun Fair. They travel statewide to march in parades such as the Leavenworth Autumn Leaf Festival. Finally, there’s a bi-annual spring trip to attend college clinics and play concerts in California.

Severson serves as one of the River Ridge band’s two drum majors. The job involves coordinating with his partner to conduct the pep band during assemblies and games. The drum major duo will also be out front during parades, using whistle commands and hand gestures to control the group’s pace and lead their turns.

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Eli Fox (left) and DJ Severson will serve as the drum majors for River Ridge High School band during the 2013 – 2014 school year.

To prepare for his responsibilities, Severson will attend a camp at Saint Martin’s University alongside his new partner, Eli Fox. Severson is the experienced senior drum major, so he’ll have some mentoring duties. However, he anticipates that Fox will learn quickly. It’s a confidence shared by band teacher John Theine. Theine describes Fox as a “good musician” who’s “conscientious about getting the work done.” He cites Fox’s planning and foresight as assets to the band and has confidence in Fox’s leadership potential.

Fox, too, looks forward to his two-year tenure as drum major and anticipates that band will be one of the defining experiences of his high school career. Band, according to Fox, is “such a rooted group” where participants can truly be themselves and form lasting, meaningful friendships with each other.

Fox, too, comes from a rich musical background. He shares, “My family is really rooted in music. I pretty much listen to everything. I actually picked up and started playing the saxophone because that’s something my dad did.” Like Severson, Fox takes the zero-hour jazz band class in addition to first period wind ensemble. He describes those back-to-back music classes as “a fine way to wake up” and get in the right mindset for a rigorous school day. He also enjoys playing community venues with the band. “I like the excitement that people have and being able to see other groups perform,” he explains.

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River Ridge music teacher, John Theine, also teaches at elementary schools within the North Thurston Public Schools district.

Running such an involved band program requires tons of time and energy from the teacher—a fact students appreciate. Fox says, “I think what makes Mr. Theine special as a teacher is his commitment to the job. He spends almost every waking hour of his life on the band. We’ve actually often wondered how he gets any sleep. He might just plug into the wall.”

Students aren’t exaggerating John Theine’s grueling schedule. He arrives at work between 4:30 and 5:30am, teaching three classes at River Ridge before heading to Evergreen Forest and Lydia Hawk elementary schools, all within the North Thurston Public Schools district. Most days, he’s back at the high school until dinner time—though he sometimes stays much later.

Clearly, this is a labor of love. Theine knows that the end result is worth it. He explains that band students who start in fifth grade spend years committing their individual efforts to a larger group success; in the process, they cultivate patience, discipline, and compassion for others. “These programs don’t get the good students,” he states. “They create the good students.”

Certainly, Severson and Fox are good students. More than that, they are good people. River Ridge is certainly lucky to have these fine young men leading the band.


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