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The life being breathed into the White River School District instrumental program is like the wind moving through the body of a flute, bright and uplifting.
Nearly three years ago, the band program was gasping for air. Dwindling participation and budget reductions were taking a toll on the program, especially at the elementary and middle school levels.
That was then.
Thursday afternoon at Foothills Elementary School 135 fifth-grade students were blowing into trombones and learning music basics from Laura Telman.
“That’s almost half the fifth-grade students (in the district),” Telman said.
She is joined for the weekly program by Glacier Middle School director Erin Lampe, White River High School director Tim Fleming and a number of high school band students.
The program draws from each of the district’s four elementary schools and the district provides after-school bus transportation.
“It’s a group effort to raise the bar,” Telman said.
Lampe, who can’t wait to see these kids in the fall at Glacier, called it a resuscitation.
“We’re starting to finally build,” said Lampe, who came to the district three years ago. “I was told it takes five years. You know it takes five years to rebuild an arts program or a sports program.”
Year three is looking good, she said.
Down at one time to about a dozen students, she bolstered the numbers to 25 with heavy recruiting. Thursday morning, 36 eighth-grade students were tuning up in the Glacier band room. Combining the district’s two middle schools also helped bring students together to play three years earlier and pooled resources. Lampe has 70 seventh-grade students and 57 sixth-grade instrumentalists. She plans to add an additional class in the fall to accommodate the influx in musicians and talent. Plus, Glacier has a jazz band taught by Karin Moses.
The fifth-grade band exposes students to instruments, teaches them how to care for them and provides them with basic instruction so when students arrive in the fall for sixth-grade band, Lampe said, they’ll be ready to work on music.
“It’s like starting math a year late,” Lampe said. “You don’t know how to multiply, but now we’re asking you to do algebra.
“Success builds success,” she said.
She found out how much when she put together a pep band for a Glacier basketball game. She said the praise and response was a big lift to the students and the coaches and players asked them to come back to play.
“It’s really a boost,” Lampe said.
The next step is a spring contest and a concert March 3 featuring the seventh- and eighth-grade and jazz band.
The success at the elementary and middle school level is having a profound impact at the high school.
“It is very exciting and promising for the high school band program to have this new direction in the feeder programs,” Fleming said. “I used to have to work extremely hard to maintain the numbers at the high school level while the numbers in the feeders were dwindling. There were a few years where we had only seven or eight incoming freshmen into the high school program. Too many years of that and the program would have died.”
Fleming said the rebound of the middle school program has already showed an impact at the high school, where he added a performing class last year and plans to add another in the next two years.
“As I hear from colleagues in neighboring districts and hear about the sacrifices that they are having to make and seeing their programs dwindle, it is refreshing to see the level of commitment our district has made to music,” Fleming said. “To imagine that just a few years ago, we were on the brink of losing elementary music altogether. Now we have even added elementary choruses at all of the schools and started up this fifth-grade band. This has been a concerted effort by all of the district music teachers with the support of our administration and we hope it will bear fruit for many years to come.”
“The program has really built itself,” said Superintendent Tom Lockyer, praising the staff for making it happen. “We’re pretty excited.”
He said the district is happy to help create an opportunity to provide a well-rounded education and work with staff and parents to grow programs.
To showcase the bands, a districtwide festival featuring all programs, fifth-grade through high school, is scheduled for June 1.’