TWELVE BARS = ALL SMILES
On a Thursday afternoon, 14 fourth- through sixth-graders from Rogue River Elementary School jammed on their harmonicas.
While it set off a bit of a discordant symphony, the students played on enthusiastically, encouraged by Ashland Blues Society
(name corrected) members Phil Newton and guitarist Pete Herzog.
As part of a program offered by the Rogue Outreach Center, the kids were learning from some of the top blues musicians in the area, who explained the basics of music, such as chords, beats, calls and response.
"In my estimation, Pete's at the top of the heap," Newton told the class.
Herzog introduced the students to his dobro, an all-metal acoustic guitar. As part of the lesson, Herzog explained that the dobro's inventor lived nearby for a time in Grants Pass.
The week of introductory harmonica lessons with accomplished blues musicians was one way the Rogue Outreach Center is helping provide what otherwise would be lacking in a Rogue River elementary education.
"They're missing out on this at school," ROC program administrator Tasha Holley said. "In Rogue River they have totally eliminated all music," said Lenny Friedman, ROC board vice president, "so there's no choir, there's no band, there's no orchestra, there's no marching band, there's no pep band. There's nothing."
To help supplement each students' education, the students have been able to keep the instruments they learned on. "They each have their own harmonica. We purchased it for them," Friedman said.
"Two weeks ago they played the recorder, and we bought those."
Harmonica is one of many weekly supplemental lessons the students will learn this fall.
Friedman said this is the first year the nonprofit center, which was founded in 2010, has switched roles from a drop-in center for middle-school students to an after-school enrichment program for elementary students.
For the students, the after-school program starts with a snack at 2:15 p.m., followed by an hour of lessons on varying weekly topics, and then an hour of homework help or activities, such as foosball or chess. The program also has access to what is now Rogue River Elementary School West, which houses fourth- through sixth-grade students.
Cost is $25 per month for kids to participate, a fee Friedman says keeps parents and kids invested in the program. For an additional $10 a month, the students can stay until 5:30 p.m., an additional hour.
The ROC's topics vary. Some topics are musical, such as harmonica or the recorder; some physical, such as basketball or pickleball; and others are practical, with topics such as money matters or anti-bullying.
"Kids enjoy different things," Friedman said. "All of the enrichment activities will not appeal to all kids."
But it's the musical programs that help fill a sorely needed niche and teach the students how to enjoy music.
"No matter what note you play, you'll get it right if you just keep practicing," fourth-grader Danielle Garcia said.
"I learned how to bend (musical notes) today," fifth-grader Gabe Tambellini said. "You can hear the song kind of bounce."
"I liked seeing people that do music," sixth-grader Cameron Smith said.
Toward the end of Thursday's lesson, Newton asked the students, "Why does music make us feel better?"
Newton mentioned a practical example — a pulmonologist who prescribed harmonicas to patients — and then turned the question back to the class.
"It kind of calms you down," Gabe answered after raising his hand.
Shortly after, the 14 students had another opportunity play along with the two musicians. Herzog provided a syncopated beat on his dobro as the students followed along with Newton's musical responses.
Newton told the class they've got potential.
"You guys all sound so good!" he said.
Nick Morgan is a news aide with the Mail Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.