FROM ROCK BAND PRACTICES TO DRAMATIC CONCERT performances of favorite movie themes, some of the most notable moments from the 2016-17 school year aren’t so out-of-the-ordinary for Harding Academy’s acclaimed band program.
As with all of the school’s arts, academic, and athletic programs, the goal of band participation goes beyond mastery of technical skills or rote memorization and demonstration. Its aims are much higher: Understanding. Appreciation. Joy.
Essential to this model of instruction and inspiration is an intentional, comprehensive approach that builds upon what students learn from year to year. While the band program officially begins in fifth grade, it takes root in the fourth grade when lower school music teacher Pam Rhett introduces the recorder to all students. Band or strings is then a required weekly feature in each fifth and sixth grade student’s curriculum. This structure affords students the opportunity to strengthen musical skills during the first year with the aim of playing full length concert pieces by the spring of the second year.
Under the direction of band teacher Jay Taylor, students are encouraged to explore new musical paths and attempt a variety of activities that are at once fun and instructional. This past year, 10 sixth–grade girls attended Taylor’s “Rock Band” sessions during snack time and performed at Spring Arts Day.
“The most exciting part was when we first started practicing and then picked the song,” says student Stephanie Wilkinson. “At first, it was challenging for all of us to remain calm enough to even get through the whole song without messing up. But, we soon met that challenge, and had fun doing it.”
Taylor is also committed to incorporating technology—through music-related apps and software—as well as selecting music that appeals to young performers as a means of motivating them to practice and learn difficult passages. During last year’s spring concert, the sixth grade band celebrated this combining of personal interest with intense challenge as they performed the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean.
Students who choose to continue with band during seventh and eighth grade discover a host of musical opportunities available to them. During a clinic last spring, they were treated to lessons from highly skilled musicians—musicians whose “real world” experience inspired the students’ curiosity and determination.
“Guest clinicians like Daniel Salley, who stressed the importance of dynamics, and Thomas McIntire, who worked with the brass and reviewed not just lip slur exercises,helped take our band to a new level of musicianship,” Taylor said.
The journey is an always evolving, always satisfying one for Taylor. With the rare opportunity to work with many of the same students for four years, he is in a unique position to learn, consider, and respond accordingly to what each student needs. That individualized attention and instruction is key to growth, as is collaboration.
Every student is accountable to know his or her instrument and to come together with classmates to orchestrate
a cohesive performance—an experience that teaches teamwork and accountability and often results in a great deal of pride.
Whether or not students continue to pursue music after middle school, everyone carries with them great memories, from rocking out with their friends, to discovering musical traditions once unknown, to mastering songs they never thought possible. And all agree: Remembering how much fun it was to play and make music together is beyond wonderful, but the value of the self-confidence students will take with them is almost immeasurable and certainly worth a rousing standing ovation.