Student Involvement In Music Growing
School districts across the commonwealth are continuing to assess their curriculum needs as well as student and staffing numbers to help reduce overall budgetary expenses. In reading the headlines it appears music and the arts are often among the categories subject to strict scrutiny. However, the beat goes on at the Southern Fulton and Forbes Road school districts where music is continuing to not only thrive but grow.
Having come on board as Southern Fulton’s junior/senior high band director five years ago, Ben Arnold has witnessed fluctuations in student interest and participation. During 2008-09, the senior high band reportedly had only 12 students. That number jumped to 19 the following year and then dipped to 15 in 2011-12.
Now in the third week of the new school year, Arnold is currently directing 26 senior high band students and an additional 18 junior high students. In explaining the recent influx of participation, the band director said there have been several grade levels over the last few years that have had little participation in the band. Those grade levels have since graduated and the following classes have been much larger.
“Furthermore, I think the students recently have had increased confidence in their playing abilities and have began to increasingly realize the potential of their capabilities as instrumentalists. So, the success of recent performances and concerts have likely increased participation,” Arnold told the “News.”
To help promote music even further, Arnold, along with the Southern Fulton Band Boosters, is currently soliciting donations of new or used musical instruments to potentially be used by beginning band students. According to Band Boosters member Andy Bright, “Learning to play a musical instrument is proven to help young students improve their mental ability and IQ, but purchasing an instrument poses a large expense for working families.”
“We believe that donating instruments that are gathering dust could remove that barrier and make it possible for some children to learn a new skill,” Bright said. At this time, the most beneficial instruments the district could receive would be flutes, trumpets, alto saxophones and percussion kits with bells, snare drum or drum pad. However, donations of any instruments in playable condition are gratefully accepted.
“The main idea for this drive is to obtain instruments for students that otherwise may be unable to afford buying or renting their own instruments,” added Arnold. Instruments can be dropped off at either the elementary or high school main office during school hours. In the event an individual is unable to drop off their instrument, Arnold can be contacted via phone or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to make arrangements for pickup.
Meanwhile at the Forbes Road School District, Ryan Wade is continuing to make great progress in what is his third year as elementary and high school band director. Joining the small, rural district in 2010-11, Wade had only 10 students between grades seven and 12 under his tutelage. That number has almost tripled to its current level of 29 students and could reach as many as 55 in two years.
Wade said several students have come back to the band after having not picked up an instrument in several years. In addition, the band is also joined by several first-time instrumentalists.
“The kids are seeing and hearing the improvement in our music,” Wade stated. “It excites them and makes them want to be a part of it.”
In fact, the band is coincidentally one of the few nonathletic activities offered at the school that is seeing growing membership. Unfortunately, along with their increasing numbers, is an increasing need for uniforms. To help alleviate the situation, Wade has undertaken a fund drive to raise money to purchase approximately 70 to 80 uniforms. Cost per uniform has been calculated at $400 apiece.
In a letter slated to be sent out to area businesses and concerned residents, Wade says, “The uniforms that we currently have are over 25 years old. Many of them are stained and torn. We are also lacking in sizes for our taller and heavier members. We have had to resort to performing in sweatshirts and dress pants to create a uniformed look in public. As one of the largest student organizations at the school, we feel that new uniforms would help us better represent our school and local community.”
Those contributing to the effort will be recognized in the band’s Christmas and spring concert programs under one of several categories: Cardinal – $200 or higher; Red Bird – $100 to $199; Gold – $50 to $99; and Blue – any donation up to $49. All donations can be mailed directly to Forbes Road Cardinal Band, 159 Red Bird Drive, Waterfall, PA 16689.
As a follow-up to the fundraising letter, the students will also be supplementing their income with a pasta sale. A spaghetti dinner may also be organized for the springs concert’s “dinner and a show.”
Visibility of the Forbes Road band has been increasing since Wade’s arrival, bringing much delight to northern Fulton County residents. In addition to adding the Ben K-5K and Wells Tannery Homecoming parade to their summer itinerary, the band also offers musical selections at the Wells Valley Methodist Church Memorial Day Service, Veterans Day and multiple Christmas and Halloween parades.
In addition, Forbes Road students will be pairing up with Southern Fulton band members once again this year for the annual county band festival. The event is tentatively scheduled for Friday, November 2, at Southern Fulton High School so as not to conflict with other musical events or fall and winter sport schedules. Wade and Arnold remain hopeful band members from McConnellsburg will be joining the festival.
“The event was originally designed to give the students in smaller school districts the opportunity to play with a larger group of musicians,” Arnold said. “I still think this is an important element of the festival, along with friendships and cooperation that was evident between the schools involved at Forbes Road last year. The level of the music played and the opportunity for growth as musicians are other areas of importance for this festival.”