The Middle School Band Program
Dear Band Parents:
Welcome to the middle school instrumental program. As parents of sixth, seventh or eighth grade members, you can play an important role in the success of your child's participation in band. Besides your financial investment for the purchase of the instrument, your support and encouragement will be needed.
At the beginning of each year we get many calls from interested parents concerning the details of the middle school instrumental program. This letter is to try to answer many questions parents have asked in the past and to anticipate some that might be asked in the future.
It is so easy for a parent to tell a student that he/she must practice. But, the space, encouragement and real support also must be provided. Show interest in your child's development. Occasionally ask them to play a song for you, or, better yet, play a duet with them. Take them to a concert and attend their public performances.
The attached flyer will answer some of your questions about our band program. If you have other suggestions or questions, please contact us at 272-4050.
Sincerely yours,Matt Nelson, 7th & 8th Grade Bands
Erik McDonough, 6th Grade Bands at MNMS & PFMS
THE BAND PROGRAM
There is one band for each grade at the middle school. The eighth grade band and the seventh grade band are directed by Mr. Nelson. Later in the year Mr. Erik McDonough will start a sixth grade band.
We will have three select groups of students: Symphonic Band and two Jazz Bands. Beginning in October, these groups will meet once a six day cycle during AREA. We use mostly eighth grade students to make up these ensembles and the selection is based on tryout scores and a balanced instrumentation.
We will be continuing the long-standing tradition of participating in the County Chorus and Band Festival. All of our Centre County school districts send their 20 best students as representatives to this event. Our student representatives are chosen from the members of the Symphonic Band, with the final selection being determined by their playing ability and balanced instrumentation.
We feel that attendance at concerts by parents and close relatives is necessary for supporting and encouraging their son and/or daughter in the band program. Every year we have families scheduling vacations and trips at concert times. These concerts might only be a middle school concert to some, but it is the culmination of a year's work and the students have a responsibility to be here. Please enter the appropriate dates or dates of your child's spring concerts on your family calendar.
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All concerts start at 7:30 P.M. Band members who are also in chorus should report at 6:45 to room 46 for warm-up and tune-up.
Concert Attire: Special Occasion clothing is appreciated. Please avoid T-shirts, jeans and sneakers unless circumstances prohibit wearing the requested attire. Please contact me if there is a problem with attire.
Tickets: The Winter program has traditionally been free, however for our Spring programs tickets are sold at the door to augment our music budget. $3.00 for adults and $1.00 for students through age 21. Senior citizens and students accompanied by an adult are admitted free.
Concert Etiquette: The music staff respectfully requests that the following tenets of concert etiquette be observed: please remain seated during the performance, any movement should take place during applause; please keep talking and other distractions to an absolute minimum; no cell phones; hats are not allowed; appropriate posture would be appreciated so as not to cause a distraction and also to take proper care of the auditorium furnishings. Thank you for your support.
Student ATTENDANCE at these events is REQUIRED. It is their final exam and therefore, part of their grade. Possible conflicts might be resolved if addressed early enough.
THE SAFETY OF INSTRUMENTS AT SCHOOL
On days that students have lessons or a band rehearsal, they should keep
small instruments in their locked lockers. Larger instruments must be kept in the instrument storage rooms. Over the years, we have had cases of malicious mischief, and we have had instruments stolen, but these incidents are extremely rare. Please make sure that your child has a nametag and some easily identifiable marking on his or her case. Many cases look alike and can be easily confused.
Individual improvement, of course, is what permits a band to improve from year to year. Private lessons for each individual, though ideal, would be prohibitive for the schools. We offer group instruction to our sixth, seventh and eighth graders. Our groups range in size and variety from 14 flutes in one section, to one oboe, one tenor sax, and three baritones in another. The size, as well as diversity of these groups makes it difficult to keep the students motivated and challenged. However, the students can always supplement their regular lesson material with more advanced books of studies, technical studies, improvisation duets, popular music, or Music Minus One records, tapes, CD's or iPods.
INSTRUMENTAL LESSONS AT THE MIDDLE SCHOOL
For some students, instrumental lessons at the middle school are great because they get out of their regular class. For others, it is a time of anxiety because they fear that they might miss something in class. As you can imagine, our students cover the whole spectrum of responses to our rotating lessons. Out of an enrollment of almost 900 students at the middle school, we have 300+ currently taking lessons on a rotating basis. The faculty and administration have always supported this procedure and know how to deal with it.
Rotating instrumental lessons are certainly not ideal but have been widely accepted as the best method to allow student instruction during school hours. Lessons during their study halls does not work. Most of our seventh and eighth graders have only one or two study halls a week and it would be impossible to include the many different instruments involved at a time coordinated with their free period.
If, on a given day, we have two scheduled classes (band rehearsal, study hall, lunch duty, etc.), we are left with six periods to have lessons. Students that are assigned a lesson on that day would miss their first period class one 6 day cycle, their second period class the next 6 day cycle, etc. This means that students would miss a particular major class once every 36 school days or once for every 36 times that the major class meets. That is the good news. The bad news is that a student has a lesson every 8 days or more, not one a week.
Permission for dismissal from a class for a lesson must be granted by the teachers. If a student's lesson conflicts with an exam that can't be made up during AREAs, then the student will be excused from his or her lesson. If they are excused, they must still turn in any assignments due and pick up any worksheets, instructions, etc. Sometimes they will even stay for a short quiz before coming to their lesson. Students can always borrow somebody's notes, and/or schedule an AREA with that teacher for make-up if it is needed. If students still feel they are missing something very important we allow them the option of splitting the period. This means they may go to their class for half of a period and then come to their lesson. We will still give them full credit for attending their lesson. In the event that the students feel a particular need to attend a class, they may, of course, miss their entire lesson. Their practice grade will still be noted for that particular week.
Since we require all students to take some kind of lesson, the only other option is for the student to take private lessons. This is most desirable after eighth grade, since there is no group instruction in the State College Area schools after that time. We believe that our system of lessons, though not ideal, meets the needs
of the majority of our students.
Band grades are determined by the efforts and accomplishments of the students at their lessons. Grades are determined by how much time is devoted to home study and how well students perform. It was not easy to make a six day rotation fit a seven day week. More information will be given to the students at their first lesson.
Each student is required to keep a Home Study Log, the purpose of which is to help the student develop self-discipline and establish a regular study regimen. A parent is also requested to sign the practice sheet each week. The parent's signature is not so much to make the practice sheet valid, but to show the parent how much (or how little) their child is studying.
Since the student's grade is determined by the performance and Home Study Log, one of the most important contributions that a parent can make is to encourage, monitor and sign the practice sheet every week.
TRYOUTS FOR 7TH & 8TH GRADERS
Like testing, we believe tryouts are an inherent part of the curriculum. They allow the students and teacher to observe their own progress. Tryouts consist of major scales, chromatic scales, sight-reading and a prepared solo. Tone, musicianship, and technique are also evaluated.
Tryouts are a means to measure yearly progress and to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of individuals as well as the sections. The results are used to help choose members for County Band and Symphonic Band. Since band music is divided into parts (1st cornet, 2nd cornet, etc.), their tryout scores are used to determine which part the student will play in the band. Tryouts are not used for grades, nor are they used to exclude students from the band.
IF YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER WANTS TO QUIT
Each year (with the exception of the first, when the dropout rate is even higher) there is a reduction in instrumental students of about 10%. This, we feel, is a normal attrition rate, and is to be expected. We do not feel that students who want to quit are failures. In fact, they have learned more about music than most students and their lives will be enriched for having experienced two, three or four years of playing in a band. If your child wants to quit, the middle school years are the second most common years for dropping band. The most common reasons include: "I don't like it, I don't have time", or worse, "I don't think I'll have time". Because of the long-term ramifications of such a decision, please consider talking to us before any final decision to drop band is made. Maybe we can help you make a more insightful decision based on our experience. Too many times students are overwhelmed by the beginning of a new school year and try to drop out of activities before getting an opportunity to let schedules work. We certainly hope that any decision to drop band is at least postponed until the end of the first nine week period, and even then, we do not recommend dropping band, but will abide by your informed decision and will continue to support you and your child as long as your parental patience lasts.
On the other hand, if the student appears to be doing well but lacks the self-discipline to study, or is just downright lazy, then strong encouragement from home is certainly in order. If you are on the borderline of such a decision, we would be glad to respond to inquiries about any student continuing in band.
PREVENTATIVE MEASURES FOR INSTRUMENT PROTECTION
Following is a list of measures that students can take that could prevent some of the problems that we have had in the past:
1. Your name should be clearly written on the outside of your case.
2. Do not leave your instrument in the school over the weekend.
Even though our instrument storage room has never been broken
into, there is always some risk involved in leaving instruments
overnight and, of course, even more risk over weekends.
3. Don't let other people play your instrument.
4. Check your homeowner's policy for instrument insurance
5. The brand name and serial number of your instrument should
be recorded and kept at home. (we have a record of it at school).
6. As soon as an instrument is missing, report it to me. Sometimes
people put them on the top shelves (out-of-view of most students)
to tease their friends. Sometimes they are picked up by another
student by mistake, especially when cases are similar in appearance.