Music in our schools

I started learning the flute in middle school and continued in high school and college. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but it wasn’t until my high school years that music became my passion. I credit my career choice with one of my biggest mentors, Jim Mazzaferro. He was my high school band director and introduced me to Sonoma County’s Cazadero Music Camp. After my first summer working at Caz, I knew I wanted to teach music because I saw young musicians get excited about music and I was part of the process in helping them learn and grow musically.

Students in SVUSD get introduced to music in elementary school. Fifth graders will take either band or choir before entering middle school, where they have the option to continue music as an elective. The middle school electives include sixth grade Intermediate Band, where we work on solidifying our technique of counting rhythms, reading notes and producing a nice tone. Those foundations will set the students up to be ready for the seventh and eighth grade elective, Advanced Band. As students continue to practice and grow as musicians, more opportunities arise. The 50-piece combined middle school Advanced Band is currently getting ready for our Music in the Parks band festival, in which we will compete and perform for a set of adjudicators, watch other musicians from all over California and attend an awards ceremony at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.

Between both middle schools, we had eight students represent Sonoma Valley at the Sonoma County Honor Band in January. Students were selected to play with other dedicated musicians, rehearse for two days and put on a concert. As students get to the high school, they can continue in music with band, choir or drama. SVHS is currently traveling to compete in a festival in Anaheim. Not every student needs to become a music major in college, but many find it rewarding to continue to play throughout their lives in either a symphony orchestra or our own Sonoma Home Town Band.

Will Deeths, Altimira’s principal, still plays his trombone in all of our concerts!

With the new “buzz” of common core, music classes fit the mold to a ‘tee .’ Not only is music an art that allows students to create and express emotion, music covers many other subjects. Music is mathematical and rhythmically based on the subdivision of time into fractions, which must be done instantaneously. Learning music is like learning a new language. Many terms are in Italian and the notation is certainly not English, but a highly developed kind of shorthand that uses symbols to represent ideas. The semantics of music constitute one of the most complete and universal languages.

Technology is currently incorporated into lessons. In preparation for concerts, we record rehearsals, listen back and critique. We make a list of the things we are doing really well and the things we hear that we still need to work on. This is beneficial for the students because they learn to open their ears, both in critiquing the recording and during rehearsal.

We have also been playing with some cool iPad apps that reinforce our rhythm reading. One of the students’ favorite apps is “Woodchuck Rhythm,” an app that gives words to certain rhythms.

Middle school music is enriching for all students and rewarding for me to see the students take such pride in becoming better musicians. Both middle schools recently went on an elementary school tour to promote band. A current sixth grader spoke to the students and stated, “Music is my creative outlet and stress reliever from all of the school work and siblings at home.” I am so happy to see so many young students recognize the power of being a musician and the friendships that come along with it.

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Carolyn Niehaus is music director at Altimira and Adele Harrison Middle Schools.