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The Frederick Harris Elementary School band performed at a Springfield Thunderbirds hockey game in early March.
Reminder Publishing submitted photo

SPRINGFIELD — A new band program at Frederick Harris Elementary in Springfield has given fourth and fifth graders the opportunity to practice, perform and create music in a traditional concert band ensemble. The students are loving it.

The program first became possible in September 2023 as a result of additional available funding through the district, Band Director Jacob Donald told Reminder Publishing. A music teacher at Harris Elementary, Donald had been looking to start the program for his students.

Two months later, the band officially began. Donald credited the program’s opening to the help of Springfield Public Schools Director of Visual and Performing Arts Julie Jaron, who offered Donald support throughout the process, and Springfield High School of Science and Technology Director of Bands Gary Bernice, who lent 50 instruments and various equipment for the band to use until they were able to purchase their own.

Now coming to the end of its first school year, the band program currently supports about 50 students, Donald said.

The fourth and fifth grade students meet each week for lessons, which are taught by Donald as well as Richard Parris-Scott and Alton Skinner from the Community Music School of Springfield. For lessons, students are divided by instrument and focus on improving skills, Donald said. Then, on Thursdays after school, the entire band meets to rehearse the music together.

Band “gives students a sense of community … [and] the opportunity to work toward something bigger than themselves,” Donald said, explaining that many of his students wouldn’t be exposed to a music ensemble until later in their lives if not for the band program. Additionally, playing in an ensemble improves cooperation, sheet music reading skills and fine motor skills.

In a recent classroom activity, students shared why they enjoyed being a part of the band. In their answers, the young musicians shared that band helped them overcome stage fright, manage anxiety, learn from mistakes and make friends, Donald stated.

In the program, students can learn how to play a new instrument with options such as percussion, flute, trumpet and clarinet. While the band focuses on skill-appropriate pieces, students are also able to suggest their own melodies to create music for the band.

“It gives them a certain ownership of the tunes,” Donald said, highlighting the student’s excitement and creativity while creating musical pieces.

The band program also gives students an opportunity to perform live, such as their recent performance at a Springfield Thunderbirds hockey game in early March. At this performance, the ensemble played for nearly 7,000 people and were able to explore behind-the-scenes at the arena before joining their families to watch the game, Donald explained.

“I feel like they all went into another gear,” he said about the student’s Thunderbirds performance, stating that the students played “flawlessly” and he “couldn’t be more proud.” Donald explained that the group prepared for the performance over the course of a few months, including practicing the music and performing on the ice.

The students’ next performance will be for Harris Elementary at the end of the school year, he said.
Donald expressed hope that the new band program will continue to grow in the coming school years and highlighted the incredible support of Harris Elementary parents, staff and administrators as well as other Springfield music teachers in helping to provide this opportunity for his students.

In addition to the band, Donald also teaches the music special at Harris Elementary. In this weekly class, students learn how to create music digitally, as well as piano and ukulele. Students can also take choir at the school.

lmason@thereminder.com | + posts