Dakota High Band members play on big stages

By: Dean Vaglia | Macomb Chronicle | Published March 6, 2023

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Two members of the Dakota High School Band, junior Lucas Behrendsen and senior Nico Chua, recently played on two major stages.

Chua, a jazz drummer, performed in the All-State High School Jazz Ensemble at the Michigan School Band & Orchestra Association’s 2023 all-state concert on Jan. 21 in Grand Rapids.

“It felt amazing,” Chua said. “There’s only one drummer that can make it out of the entire state, and there were a lot of drummers that auditioned. The fact that I was picked out of all of them is unbelievable.”

The lone drummer to make it into the ensemble, Chua stands out as one of the best high school jazz drummers in Michigan — or as Chua puts it, the one who had the best audition.

“Even though, technically, I’m the only person that got it, I’ve seen other people who auditioned for it,” Chua said. “They’re also really great musicians, so I wouldn’t say that means that I’m the best drummer in the state or anything. It definitely means that I auditioned the best, but there’s just so much great talent out there.”

Auditioning for the all-state ensemble was no easy feat. Having auditioned and failed in prior years, Chua went “all-out” practicing for the rhythmic gauntlet that was the audition. Hopefuls are expected to perform multiple improvised solo sets involving three different musical styles, master a complicated solo, sight read a song and play time perfectly to a backing piano and bass.

“It was just nice to play with all of the greatest musicians in the state,” Chua said. “It was really satisfying to hear everything played almost perfectly. It was really nice to be in that group.”

Behrendsen, who plays the French horn, performed on the Carnegie Hall stage on Feb. 4 as part of the Honors Performance Series.

“It was unbelievable,” Behrendsen said. “Just being able to play in that kind of space was just — I don’t have the words, to be honest. It was unbelievable.”

Musicians in the Honors Performance Series are nominated by a teacher and submit a recorded audition of their performance to the series’ organizers. References were submitted on behalf of several Dakota musicians last year with organizers reaching back to Behrendsen for an audition.

Behrendsen’s performance at the famed New York City venue consisted of four pieces. There was a fast and upbeat piece to start, which he said he found fun to play. There was then a lower and melodic piece. He said the third piece was “a bunch of different fragments of a melody all kind of spaced out; it was really interesting.” A final “power” statement closed out the performance.

Dakota High School Director of Bands Justin Makarewicz expressed great pride in Chua and Behrendsen’s achievements.

“Lucas and Nico are some of the most talented young musicians I’ve had the privilege to work with in my career,” Makarewicz said via email. “They also hold a high standard for being good people and committed to anything they do. When they told me about their respective opportunities, I felt a sense of joy for them because they truly deserved it. I’m so proud of them that it makes me smile just thinking about their accomplishments since they’ve been a member of our program. I’m excited for their futures and hope to stay in touch with them as they go on to do incredible things.”

Following their performances, both musicians plan to continue playing music beyond graduation. Behrendsen wishes to have a career making musical scores for movies and video games, while Chua plans to continue playing as a side hobby while pursuing other careers.