Adult beginning band class members, from right, Peggy Morris and Linda Hibberd play saxophone, Maria Allison plays drums, Tom Allison plays trombone and Darrell Knacksteadt plays trumpet Tuesday at Skyview High School. The class is offered by Soldotna Community Schools.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
The group gathered in loose semicircles in the Skyview High School band room Tuesday had all the earmarks of budding musicians who are slowly turning the tide in their struggle to master the still-unfamiliar band instruments in their hands.
They firmly grasped their implements of sound and, at this stage spit, dredging up fingerings and slide positions that they recently committed to memory while their eyes darted between the notes on the pages before them and the director waving his arms at the front of the room. Though their lips were coming to the end of their stamina after nearly an hour and a half of playing, they still puffed out tunes like "Galactic Episode," "Variations on a Shepherd's Theme" and "Old Joe Clark," with their feet tapping in time to help them navigate tricky rhythms.
The tunes they played came out of fifth-grade beginning band books and the occasional woodwind squeaks and brass grumbles on muffed notes sounded like they could come from 11- and 12-year olds, but these musicians in the making weren't typical beginning band students. At the end of class, instead of running off to catch a bus, these students walked out to their own cars, drove themselves to their own homes and many greeted their own kids when they got there some of whom were fifth-grade age and older.
The class is beginning band for adults, offered through the Soldotna Community Schools program. Kent Peterson, band and choir director at Skyview, offered to teach the class as a way to encourage a lifelong interest in music and to help enliven the arts scene in Soldotna. He expected the class would draw people who had never played an instrument before and those who used to play an instrument in school or at some other point in their lives but let the training languish.
"It's for a lot of people who used to play and are afraid to pick it up, afraid of what they forgot. It's safe for them," Peterson said.
Jane Handy of Soldotna took the class to relearn how to play the flute.
"It hadn't been out of the closet for 30 some years," she said. "I thought it was time to dust it off and see if I could play some notes."
Though she's interested in music, the thought of teaching herself how to play again didn't hold much appeal for her.
"It's not as much fun to play an instrument by yourself," Handy said. "It's not like a guitar where you can sing along."
Peterson started the class seven weeks ago with the basics showing the roughly 15 students how to put their instruments together, get sound out of them and read music. Though the music the class started with is at a fifth-grade level, Peterson said they've moved through it faster than a fifth-grade class would.
"Because they're adults, we can go a lot faster than fifth-graders can," he said.
The group also is able to discuss concepts like improvisation, phrasing and playing musically that are beyond what kids starting out in band typically are capable of.
"They'll usually have enough experience and background and self-control, I guess, to apply it," Peterson said.
Teaching adults comes with some perks, like not having to worry about discipline although that's not to say there aren't whispered conversations when Peterson is turned around writing on the board people who bring in desserts to share after class and shared humor. Peterson said the group jokingly renamed itself the "XXX Band" after laughing about being an "adult band."
Skyview band and choir teacher Kent Peterson directs the band Tuesday. He said the class started at a fifth-grade beginning band level but by the end of 10 weeks will be at a seventh-grade level.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
There are some challenges with adults that don't come up with kids' band, too, like helping people with trifocals figure out how to arrange their stands and music books so they can read the music and see Peterson at the same time.
Yet for all the differences, some things never change in beginning band, whether it's for adults or kids.
"The enthusiasm (is the same), like the first time they played 'Hot Crossed Buns' and they go, 'Ooh, that sounds good,'" Peterson said. "So that's kind of funny."
Students, young or old, also face the same frustration that comes with learning a new instrument. Monica Frost of Soldotna is one of the truly beginner beginning band students in that she's learning to play the clarinet from scratch. In the most recent class, she discovered just how difficult it can be to coax a high note out of a clarinet.
"My dad bought me a clarinet at a garage sale at least 15 years ago. ... When I saw this class I thought it would be fun, but I hate it," she joked, saying she has fun when she's at class but gets frustrated when she's practicing at home.
"I used to make fun of clarinet players when I was in high school and now I eat my words."
Peterson is supportive when students have a hard time with something and employs many band teacher tricks to help them overcome the challenges. If the class stumbles on a tricky rhythm, he has them say their notes out loud, then play the piece on just one note before trying it again as written.
"Almost. All right, you'll get it," Peterson told the class Tuesday after they got a little lost on "Molly Malone." "... Go back to (measure) 21. We'll regroup there."
Parents in adult beginning band, especially those with kids who are starting out in band, have a better understanding of what their kids are going through.
"Then they'll understand how hard the clarinet really is," Peterson said.
This semester of adult beginning band will wrap up in another three weeks and Peterson plans to continue the program in the spring semester. That class will be called intermediate adult band and will be for current class members or others who want to relearn an instrument. He'll offer the beginning class again next fall in the hope of adding new people to the program. Eventually he hopes to have enough adults to have a community band.
"Getting up to play at the high school level or beyond would be really awesome," he said of the group. "... By the time you get to the end of the second book, they you know enough to learn anything."
For now, however, Peterson expects the class will finish up at the seventh-grade level not bad for only meeting once a week for 10 weeks. It's not surprising the class is as far as they are, though, since the diehards who brave the darkness and recent lousy weather to take the nighttime class are dedicated to what they're doing.
"My lips are going to be done after this. Actually, they're probably done now," said trumpet player Darrell Knacksteadt at the close of Tuesday's class. But that didn't stop him from his request:
"One more for the show?"
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