When it came to picking an instrument, Maya Johnson knew at once that she wanted to play the trombone.
It was her sixth-grade year and Maya was eager to follow in the footsteps of her older sister, Kelsey, who was then playing the euphonium in the Bayonet Point Middle School band program.
"I thought the slide was really cool," Maya said. "And it has a really big sound."
Of course it helped that there was one hanging around the house, since Kelsey, who once had a hankering for the trombone, had lost interest and was more than willing to pass the instrument on to her younger sister.
It turned out to be a good choice. Under the direction of band director Caitlin McKeown, Maya flourished in her play. Aside from her daily band class, Maya signed on for the after-school jazz band. She also took private lessons from McKeown's husband, Jonathan, a trombone player and a former band director at New Port Richey's Ridgewood High. All that extra practice paid off when she was selected to play in Pasco's All County Band for two years in row.
Now in her eighth-grade year, Maya, 13, is looking forward to the honor of playing the trombone as a member of the Florida Bandmaster Association's Middle School All State Concert Band. In January she will perform with a selected class of exceptional young musicians from throughout the state at the Florida Music Educators Association's Professional Development Conference at the Tampa Convention Center.
It's a very big honor, bestowed upon just a few. Maya is the sole middle school player to be selected from the three counties that make up District V through a blind audition process held in early September.
River Ridge Middle alto sax player Natalie Sallah, who was selected by the nomination of her school director, will also represent District V as a member of the Middle School All State Honor Band.
"I didn't believe it," said Maya, who worked hard over the summer to learn the required upper-level audition pieces. "It takes a while to sink in."
It's no doubt a feather in the cap for a student who loves being a part of the band.
"Band is like learning a whole new language — but it's like no other language with words," she said. "It's hard to describe."
It's also feather in the cap for band director Caitlin McKeown, a Bayonet Point Middle band alumnus and 2002 Ridgewood High graduate who has sent students to All State for three years in a row.
"I'm super impressed with her high expectations for her students," said Rebecca Musselman, supervisor of Fine Arts, Curriculum and Instructional Services for Pasco schools. "It is a big deal and we're very proud of the fact that she has worked hard to develop herself as a director and that transitions into the classroom with her students. She opens their eyes to the possibility of this (music) as a career and another step in their musical development."
McKeown is one of six secondary band directors to graduate from Pasco schools and return to teach. She knows the importance of expanding student opportunities, whether it be by founding a new after-school jazz band program, an in-school guitar class or touting high-level opportunities to which students can aspire, such as All County and All State Band programs.
As a clarinet player at Bayonet Point Middle, she once had the opportunity to shine in the All State Concert Band.
"It's one of the most memorable things I've ever done," she said. "You get to work with high-level musicians. You get to work with a high-quality band director and play music that most high school musicians would have difficulty with. And you realize just how big the band world is."