In the past, students in the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) would have to wait until fifth grade if they wanted to join the band program.
But now thanks to the efforts of music instructors districtwide, youngsters interested in band can pick up their instrument of choice a year earlier in fourth grade just like their counterparts in the orchestra program.
With the district’s grade reconfiguration to a K-5, 6-8, 9-12 system, both band and orchestra students will have the chance to learn their instruments for two years before heading to middle school.
Eric Peterson, band director at Evergreen Middle School (EMS) in Redmond, said this shift benefits both the program, as well as the students.
He said fourth and fifth grades are the best times for students’ brains to pick up on things and they are more receptive to learning. The extra year of instruction also gives students more time to develop their technical skills. Peterson said this is important if they choose to try out for any sort of honor program as the level of competition in such programs is high and only becoming more challenging.
Even if students don’t choose to try out for an honor program, Redmond High School (RHS) orchestra director Paula C. Ferguson said the skill level in music programs at the high school level is also high.
Although the program change takes place at the elementary level, both Ferguson and RHS band director Andy Robertson will benefit. Robertson said once the students reach the high school level, their skill level will be higher.
“I think it’ll be great,” he said.
Bryan Kolk, the orchestra director at Redmond Middle School (RMS), said having the band program begin at the same grade level as orchestra also allows for consistent instruction. Previously when band began a year after orchestra, some students would join the latter for a year before switching to the former in order to play the instrument they really wanted to play.
By having both groups begin at the same time, Peterson said students are also able to see all of their options at once and pick the path they want.
In addition, Kolk said now that sixth grade is in the middle school, students are receiving even more consistent instruction at a crucial age as band and orchestra are every day and part of the school day. Before the grade reconfiguration, many of the music classes took place outside the regular school day and were not held on a daily basis.
Another benefit of having band begin at fourth grade has been just the opportunity for students to begin their instruments earlier. Peterson said when they visit the elementary schools to recruit and explain the music programs, younger students often ask the instructors if and when they can start.
“The excitement has been there,” he said.
Peterson said they have been fortunate that LWSD officials and administration have supported this shift in the program as he does not believe students can be whole and healthy without the arts.
His fellow music instructors agreed.
Kolk said students gain confidence through performing and are required to own their abilities as they cannot fake whether or not they practiced.
“You can’t lie about it,” he said.
Ferguson added that music classes also teach students how to accept others just as they are and support each other in playing because everyone is in the same boat.
“That’s the deal,” she said.