Monday, November 25, 2013


Last Wednesday I visited Oakland Mills Middle School as a part of American Education Week. I got the chance to observe a GT Social Studies class and a Band rehearsal. I learned quite a bit from each class. Today I want to share something about what I experienced in Mrs. Reichl's Band class.

Symphonic Band is for more experienced players. The room was packed. This is a class that students choose, and must audition for a place, and every bit of the room was filled. In fact, for the beginning of the rehearsal visiting parents had to stand because there was not one extra inch of space for chairs.

Once the opening activities were taken care of, the percussion players went to their posts in the back of the room, and the parents were invited to take those seats. As a choral singer for most of of my life, I had never been to a school band rehearsal. Let me tell you, if you want to have the full experience, you should definitely sit behind the tubas and in front of the percussion! Have you ever heard the term "surround-sound"? That is exactly what we experienced.

In one class period we observed students involved in sight reading, learning musical vocabulary, making music, improving technique, listening to other students, and above all, focusing on the director and student intern. The level of attention demanded and received was awe-inspiring. The students knew the expectations; the teachers gave clear, positive directions and suggestions. Musical performance and student behavior were shaped with a look, a gesture, a raised eyebrow, a breath.

Every student was in that room by choice. Yet I would hazard a guess that the the level of work and the expectations for behavior far exceed those for any other class they are taking. So why are they there?

Immersion. For that one class period, everyone is immersed in the hands on experience of making music. There are no cliques, no smart kids vs dumb kids, no popular kids vs awkward kids. What a relief for these middle schoolers to spend some portion of the day unfettered by the discomforts of being adolescent. Making music is a multi-sensory, full mind-body experience. Lori Reichl shares the joy of that with her students, and for that she has a full house.

Meaningful work. Instant feedback. Working together. Active listening. The joy of creating something beautiful. This is not something that supplements education. This is education.

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