Program needs instruments

The saxophone that 10-year-old Patrick Drew rents is in the shop being repaired. But he still shows up for band practice every morning at Empire Elementary School.

"I practice my fingers just in the air because I know the notes," he explained. "It would be better if I had a real saxophone, then I could practice more and try it out more."

Music teacher Christina O'Neil would like to have a back-up supply of instruments at the school for occasions when one breaks or for students who cannot afford to rent one.

"With so many of these kids, their families can't afford to rent an instrument," she explained. "If they could just borrow from the school, it would be so much easier."

She said the challenge of trying to create a band at a low-income elementary school is exacerbated because there has been a high turnover of music teachers.

She plans to change that.

"The program hasn't been able to build," she said. "I'm hoping that by staying here, I'll be able to build it up to a band of 70 students."

As it is, the band has only eight members, which is a big adjustment for Jessica Hernandez, 10, who played the trumpet last year in her band in California and is now in the band at Empire Elementary School.

"I like a bigger band," she said. "It sounds much better."

O'Neil agrees.

"We don't have enough players for all of the parts for the band," she said. "We don't have some of the brass instruments. We don't have what we need to make that balance."

In looking to the future, she is preparing the younger students by teaching them to play the recorder in fourth grade so they can learn notes.

By teaching students to play an instrument, she said, she is also teaching them to be better students.

"It helps the two halves of the brain work together," she said. "It will help them in their reading and writing skills and multi-tasking. If they can watch the director, pay attention to their fingerings, produce tone and read music all at the same time, surely they can take notes and listen to the teacher at the same time."

And it is simply a chance for some students to realize a dream.

"Ever since I was in first grade, I've always wanted to play the drum," said Amy Meisler, 10, who plays the snare drum in the band.

Contact Teri Vance at or at 881-1272.


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