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Salvaging the sound of music

Elementary school music and band classes begin this week in Medford schools, despite budget cuts that nearly quelled them

Hedrick Middle School band teacher Randy Magallanes has 70-some energetic pre-teens counting time in unison as they scan a line of music shining from an overhead projector.

One-and two-oo. After some general music instruction, about half the kids head down the hall with teacher Lynn Imhof for orchestra, while the other half follow Magallanes to the band room.

Elementary band and orchestra kicked off in Medford schools this week ' after budget cuts threatened to eliminate the programs last spring.

The district had to remake its elementary music program to help balance the budget. It cut teachers, shifted focus from performance to theory in general music classes, and made band and orchestra after-school programs.

We have radically altered the music program, but we are going to try to make this work, Elementary Education Director Phil Long said.

— The district has just seven music teachers serving 14 elementary schools. Last year it had 13 elementary music teachers. Kindergartners get one 20-minute music class a week, while first- through sixth-graders get 40 minutes a week of music instruction, Long said. Evening programs to showcase talents have been eliminated, and teachers will focus on music theory and appreciation instead of performance.

Sixth-grade band and orchestra students and a handful of fifth-grade orchestra students from around the district are bused to middle schools for nearly an hour and a half of music instruction twice a week after school. Previously, band, orchestra and chorus were offered at elementary schools. Orchestra students used to pick up their instruments in fourth grade, but now the program focuses on sixth-graders, with just a few fifth-graders who started last year as fourth-graders continuing their studies, Long said.

Magallanes and Imhof lead about 144 kids from east Medford elementary schools, fitting the classes into their schedule of seventh- and eighth-grade music classes. Across town at McLoughlin Middle School, band teacher Chris Bauman and Oceanah D'Amore, an orchestra instructor who also teaches general music at two elementary schools, lead 120 kids from the west side of the district.

Sixth grade is the ideal age to start a band instrument, Magallanes said.

Kids are generally big enough to hoist even a bulky brass instrument and their fingers can span all the keys. They also have three years to master the basics and be ready for higher performance expectations in high school, he explained.

Nick Brooks, a sixth-grader at Abraham Lincoln Elementary, is eager to try out the tuba. He took chorus last year and this year has general music once a week for singing and learning about music, he said. But he wanted more.

This is the first year he wanted to do band, mom Pam Brooks said. He's really excited.

Brooks and Magallanes said they were glad the district was able to preserve instrumental music instruction for sixth-grade students.

They have to get a young start, Magallanes said. This way they are still able to do that.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

Cassie Forster, 12, tries out the flute on her second day of after-school band class at Hedrick Middle School on Thursday. Medford schools this year made a system work with about half as many teachers. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven