Photo and Article by Emily Jankauski:
Ending the semester on a high note, the 25-year M-S music director Michael Stevens led the sixth-grade band to push its limits during the winter concert at the M-S High School gymnasium.
The Mahomet Citizen and Mahomet Daily share a story between the publications on a weekly basis.
Nervously watching the director’s baton, more than 200 fifth- and sixth-grade band students positioned their instruments and warmed up their voices for the semester’s first live performances at Mahomet-Seymour High School’s gymnasium last Thursday.
Both band and chorus members, whose facial expressions ranged from apprehension to excitement, performed three songs each to create a whimsical winter wonderland.
Parents merrily filled the gymnasium’s bleachers to watch, for many, their child’s first rehearsed performance.
“She was too excited to eat supper,” said Rachel Roberts, mother of flute player Lillian Roberts.
Beyond providing the festive fanfare, the well-attended concert explored the impact music has on each child’s life.
Fifth-grade chorus director Sue Keeble described the power of music education as a gateway.
“My favorite thing about music is that it’s an incredible gateway to other places, not just to other cultures and countries, but it’s a gateway to your character,” Keeble said. “You can learn about citizenship and respect through playing instruments.”
Keeble provided a prime example of music’s gateway by sharing how much her fifth-grade chorus students learned about Veterans Day.
“The kids really responded to that (learning about Veterans Day),” Keeble said. “(Music is) a fun way to learn, and sometimes you don’t even know you’re learning. Our ultimate objective is musical skills, but through the skills, we also get to a lot of other things.”
In particular, the song “Sansa karoma,” a Ghana folk song, not only yielded the opportunity for children to play the drums, but the West African song taught the chorus students about bullying.
“In the choral repertoire, it’s a very standard piece,” Keeble said. “I have to tell you I honestly picked it because I wanted to incorporate the drums. I love to use instruments and let the kids have an opportunity to play. It (the song title) translates to ‘Sansa the hawk, you are an orphan and you snatch up baby chicks.’ The title is a metaphor for bullying. The hawk is considered a bully.”
The 14-year Mahomet-Seymour district music teacher said her fondest memories of preparing for the winter concert include laughter and joking with the fifth-graders.
“It’s fun to give the kids a hard time,” Keeble said. “There’s laughter, too. I try to keep it light.”
Fifth-grade band director Philip Meyer was the first to break the evening’s jitters with the 140-member band performance at 6:30 p.m.
“We love to put on a holiday show,” Meyer said. “Because not only do the parents like it, but it gets the kids really excited.”
The group incorporated six musical notes to perform three holiday songs, including “First Rockin’ Christmas,” “Christmas Wish” and “North Pole Sleigh Ride.”
Though the performance was well-received, Meyer said the music selection process proved a bit difficult.
“It’s really hard to find good music for that young of a band,” he said. “It’s really hard to find songs that they’re familiar with that are also at their level. It works out that a lot of holiday songs feature six notes.”
Meyer, in his third year at the district, began as a student teacher in the spring of 2015 under the wing of fellow M-S music educator Michael Stevens. Meyer’s favorite thing about being a band director is working with the children.
“The kids we have here in Mahomet are relatable kids; they’re good people,” he said. “They are enthusiastic about music, and it makes working with them a joy.”
Meyer soaked in every moment leading up to the fifth-grade band’s first performance. In fact, he selected these moments as his fondest memories of the concert.
“I remember back to my first concert and being extremely nervous, excited and a little scared,” he said.
“Every year, I love
seeing the fifth-graders experience those whirlwind of emotions before they play for their parents for the first time.”
The fifth-grade band instructor said he hopes to incorporate the remaining two notes of the B-flat scale when the students return from winter break. Meyer added the additional notes allow for a wider variety of music; however, he knows completing the eight-note scale may stretch the young musicians.
“For a lot of players, it’s reaching into their abilities,” Meyer said. “Once you have more notes, you have more challenging and better music.”
Meyer said his students will resume fine-tuning their scales until April, when the students begin preparing for the spring concert.
Only a minor lull occurred between the fifth-grade concert and the sixth-grade performance at 7:45 p.m.
Parents eagerly took to their bleacher seats to hear the next performers’ set.
Parents Jordall Glover and Lashunda Hall eagerly awaited the band and chorus performance of their twin daughters, Janae and Teri Hall. The twins started their M-S music career one year ago while in the fifth grade with Janae playing the baritone and Teri the alto saxophone. Janae Hall was especially excited for the chorus performance after making all-state choir in Peoria.
Despite this being the second winter concert for the twins, Lashunda Hall said the girls were “singing around the house” weeks before the concert.
“They never stopped,” Jordall Glover joked. “They even sing in their room before bed.”
The Hall sisters’ two to three hours of daily practice not only enriches the girls’ cognitive and listening skills, according to mother Lashunda Hall, but also grants them a competitive spirit.
“They even get better grades because of it (music),” Jordall Glover added.
For other musicians, like Hailey Simpson, the music concerts provide an opportunity to develop confidence. Aside from the pure enjoyment of playing the clarinet, Hailey’s mother, Alyssa Simpson, said music allows Hailey to compete with herself.
“She can do a lot of things naturally,” Alyssa Simpson said. “But with the clarinet, she has to work at it.”
Band director Michael Stevens led the 92-member sixth-grade band with three songs. The band members practiced “Dark Adventure,” “Thoughts and Dreams” and “Fortis” since the end of September.
Though the songs lacked a holiday theme, they certainly provided a representation of the band’s musical growth.
“Obviously with beginning bands, it’s trying to find things that they can handle. So you look for things like the range of the instruments, like how high they can play,” Stevens said. “You have to have something short enough where they can handle the stamina. As far as sixth grade, we play in different signature pieces. I consistently try to find things that will push them.”
In his 25th year, Stevens reflected on his time as a music educator in the Mahomet-Seymour district.
“This was my first job out of college, and I’m still here,” he said. “I see kids from fifth grade until they graduate high school. I feel like I help raise them really.”
Despite his long-standing career, one thing that never tires Stevens is watching the students’ reaction moments before the winter concert.
“My favorite thing is probably the day of the concert when you see the excitement on their faces,” Stevens said. “The fifth- graders couldn’t wait to get there that night and play. I love watching the kids’ excitement when they first get their instruments to seeing their success (in high school).”
Sixth-grade trombone player Jacob Heaton’s parents, Mike Heaton and Mindy Spencer, were also enthusiastic to watch their son perform.
“We enjoy hearing what he’s been working on,” said the former Marching Illini trombone player Mike Heaton. “I like that music is enriching his life.”
Following in his father’s footsteps, Jacob Heaton is already talking about joining the marching band.
“He enjoys the legacy of music,” Mindy Spencer said. “He’s a lifer.”
Beyond the tradition of music, sixth-grade choir director Nicole Kuglich said music often provides many “teachable moments” for students.
“One of the things we address is how they sing vowels,” Kuglich said. “That’s the foundation of a good chorus. You have to work really hard to have all of the singers in your choir learn how to match their fellow singers in the room so that it doesn’t sound like a lot of individuals, but a chorus.”
In her 20th year of teaching, the choir director spent 14 years of her career in Ohio before spending the last six at Mahomet-Seymour. Kuglich said the important thing to note about the sixth-grade chorus is that the members chose to sign up for choir. She believes music education is integral for the whole child.
“I think whenever a student is in music, be it band or chorus, it requires discipline to truly be successful,” Kuglich said.
“There’s something about that group mentality. Kids develop into good leaders and understand how to accomplish a group goal.”
Kuglich said the rewards of a music-based education far exceed the realm of the classroom.
“It’s (the discipline of music) an invaluable asset to have as an adult, regardless of career.”
The next fifth- and sixth-grade band and chorus concert occurs May 3 at the Mahomet-Seymour High
School gymnasium. The fifth-grade band and chorus starts at 6:30 p.m., while the sixth-grade band and
chorus begins at 7:45 p.m.