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feature A New Adventure

Starting a Band Program From Scratch David Pelow, Gillett

B Background

In October of 2005, it was my pleasure to have the opportunity to establish a band program where no band program had gone before. The school, St. James Lutheran School, is located in Shawano, a city with a population of approximately 9,000 people. St. James has a total enrollment of 230 students, grades pre-K-8 and offers all of the classes that one might expect in an elementary/middle school.

Prior to 2005, instrumental music was offered through the Shawano Community Middle School. Students enrolled in these classes were required to find daily trans- portation to that school. Because of dif- ficulties in coordinating the schedules of the two schools, students often found that when they arrived at the middle school, they were unable to have a rehearsal or lesson on that particular day. As a result, the enrollment dwindled until there was only one string student involved in the fall of 2005.

At present, St. James has one and one-half music teachers, 34 instrumental students and 43 choral students in the performing ensembles along with regular classroom music for grades K-8. The school is a member of WSMA and enters both choir and band concert events and has an aver- age of 35 solos and ensembles at festivals. The large ensembles have at least one ma- jor performance each semester and numer- ous small ensembles perform throughout the school year.

Practical Pointers

At St. James, band is offered as a part of the academic curriculum as an elective class with two 45-minute rehearsals per week and one 20-minute lesson per week. Lessons are scheduled on a “pull-out” ba- sis and are rescheduled should a class con- flict arise. Small ensembles are scheduled as convenience will allow. These small ensembles are an extremely important part of learning for the students (matching pitch, ensemble precision, stage presence, etc). Assessment of progress is done using a portfolio system for both ensembles and lessons. During the third quarter of each school year, each student, beginning in sixth grade, is required to study a solo from the WSMA Festival Music List and lessons are centered on that solo. Festival performance is not required, but over 90 percent perform at the district festival.

Instrumental music instruction begins in fifth grade and students are recruited in the usual manner. Instruments are rented from a local music dealer or in some cases from the school. Usually these students begin to participate in band rehearsals at the beginning of the second semester or slightly before.

How and Why – Organization

In order to successfully accomplish this invigorating task, several important things seem to be required. Number one: a detailed plan must be in place. Without a plan, a goal is not identified and means of reaching a goal is haphazard, at best.

Think of it as leaving New York on a transatlantic cruise with no compass or electronic communication. What are the odds of success?

The plan should include a definite struc- ture of the program. When are lessons scheduled? Why are lessons necessary? How are ensemble rehearsals scheduled? In what grade does instruction begin? How is the program financed? Are music classes part of the academic curriculum? How will grades/credit fit into the school program? When/where/how often do performances take place? Is participation in WSMA Music Festivals a part of the program? Is there a place for performance outside of the school (travel, outside festivals, guest performance, etc.)? Perhaps most important, is a sequential plan of instruc- tion, (curriculum) including instructional materials, assessment and rationale in place? I suspect that the reader may be able to identify others that I have over- looked. The point is that if any of these components are not in place before the task begins, the odds of success are sig- nificantly diminished.

How and Why – Communication So, most of the issues of program structure are in place. What now? Equally important is the matter of communication. With whom is communication so necessary? Your administration, at all levels, your fellow teachers, the staff at your school,

~ Kevin Thays

As schools face ongoing budget challenges, working closely with administrators is more important than ever! Continue to visit the January issue of WSM themed “Dear Administrator...” archived at

(password: celebrate50) for insightful information, tools and resources. 20 April 2011

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