District 153 music program offers students options in voice, band and orchestra

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District 153 music program offers students options in voice, band and orchestra

July 08, 2017 - 10:05
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  Hart School students Waylon Deck with a tenor
  saxophone, and Kennedy Bridges, Andrew Heligas
  and Josie Urbaniak with French horns. District 153
  allocated additional funds for these new instruments.

  (Provided photo)
 

Homewood District 153 school board president Shelly Marks believes “students develop discipline when they practice an instrument, become team players when they are part of a band, orchestra or choir, and are able to explore something they are passionate about.”   

That nearly two-thirds of the students in the upper grades take part in the music program is a credit to the district's work to incorporate music lessons into the curriculum, she said.

  James Hart Band Director
  Matt Johnson sits in with
  the band and conducts
  from his chair in the
  saxophone section
  during a performance
  at the opening of the
  summer season of
  the Homewood Farmers
  Market.
(Photo by Eric 
  Crump/H-F Chronicle)
 

The District 153 school board made a $10,460 allocation for new instruments this past school year. The money was outside of the regular budget that provides for sheet music, reeds, valves, oil and other instructional materials. The district's Parents Music Association adds yearly donations to support the music programs, teachers' needs and individual student achievements.

James Hart School Choral Director Adrienne Olsen believes music should be part of every child’s life.

 
“We are hardwired for music. It’s something we need as humans,” and she points to studies that show “the kids in music develop more of their brains and are better able to solve problems.”
 
But really, for Olsen it’s the love of the voice as an instrument. She is directing 94 students at Hart singing in various ensembles.
 
She has been singing since her junior high days at James Hart and proudly points to a picture of herself performing in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta directed by William Luke, the first music director for the district.
 
Today Olsen directs the school’s annual musicals with popular themes, such as “Shrek” and “Suessical.”
 
The District 153 orchestra is made up of student musicians playing violin, cello, viola and bass. They learn a range of music, not just classical pieces. 
 
  Hart School Orchestra
  Director Sara White waits
  for students to tune their
  instruments for an
  "Introduction to Orchestra"
  program at Churchill School.

  (Photo by Marilyn Thomas/
  H-F Chronicle)
 
When May 4 was announced as the spring concert date, Orchestra Director Sara White immediately knew it would be “May the 4th Be With You” day for her students in recognition of the international “Star Wars” day, playing off the movie’s slogan, “May the force be with you.”
 
“I worked to find an easier arrangement (of the Star Wars theme) for the little ones,” she said. Each instrument had a glo-stick attached to the bow to mimic the light sabers from the movie. “It just came to fruition and it’s cool when something like that comes off well.”
 
White includes a classical piece in each orchestral performance, but classical can’t be the only music her students learn.
 
“Choosing the music is really important so they learn what they need to learn and in a good way. You want to keep it fun so the kids want to come back next year. You want to keep it fun so they’ll work hard on the new technique you’re giving them,” White said. 
 
“I like music in general and I like playing in the orchestra and hearing all the different parts come together,” said Hart student and first violinst Mikayla McIntyre. Jacquelyn Omodunni, a 8th grade bassist with the orchestra, auditioned for a spot in Homewood-Flossmoor High School program.
 
For more than 65 years, students in Homewood District 153 have been developing a love of playing and singing music through an outstanding music program.
 
Numbers show the music program is thriving. Today more than 200 students are in band and orchestra. Once students get their introduction to band in 5th grade, more than 85 percent of the students continue dedicating not just class time but before and after school time to practices and performances in regional competitions.
 
“We think that the payoff is certainly in the leadership you get from being in band, and the teamwork you get from being in band and the musical (benefits) as well,” said Matt Johnson, band director. “Getting the opportunity to be artistic on a musical instrument, there’s really no other experience like it.”
 
The district provides students the fundamentals of music in the primary grades at Willow School and builds on it through band and choir at Churchill School in what Johnson calls “performance classes” that give students their first rigors at learning and performing music.
 
At Hart School, music options multiply. Students can be part of the sixth grade choir, orchestra or band, and seventh and eighth graders move in to symphonic orchestra, chamber orchestra, symphonic band and Panther Choir. The jazz band is open to sixth, seventh and eighth graders. 
 
“The majority of the student population (at Hart) is in either band, orchestra or choir,” Johnson said. Students do have the option of doubling up with choir and either band or orchestra.
 
District 153 also has a required curriculum of six-week sessions known as “essentials.” Music is part of that curriculum.
 
Classes at Hart are 42 minutes. In addition, music teachers will take groups of three or four students out of class weekly for 30-minute lessons. These sessions provide special attention to each section of the band or orchestra. Johnson believes these lessons “are essential for individual feedback.” 
 
When Johnson was hired in summer 2016, he took inventory of all the Hart School band instruments. He has set out a long-range plan to refurbish or purchase instruments. That special budget allocation from the school board allowed him to purchase three French double horns, a new tenor saxophone and repairs for a sax.
 
Hart School has approximately 100 wind instruments, including the flute, oboe, clarinet, sax, trumpet, trombone and French horns and 30 percussion instruments, including drums, Sousaphone, marimba and piano. 
 
Johnson said in most cases, students either own or rent their instruments. In 5th grade, students are just starting out, so they will rent their instrument. At Hart they will switch to more expensive instruments they will rent, sometimes with a rent to own option, or purchase an instrument.
 
Instruments are another expense for parents, but Johnson said, “I always think they’re investing in their child’s music education because it is an investment.”