Musical Elis teach middle schoolers

At 7 a.m. five days a week, a group of New Haven students trek up to their school, an hour before school starts, carrying their saxophones, clarinets, flutes and trumpets. This weekend, they will trek to Killingworth, Conn. for a music festival.

Seven Yale School of Music students and three undergraduates have been giving music lessons to students at the John C. Daniels School in New Haven since last fall. Fifteen of these middle school students, who auditioned successfully, will now attend the selective Connecticut Music Educators Association Southern Regional Middle School Concert Festival, which will take place Friday and Saturday in Killingworth.

“Their attendance [at school] is great because they don’t want to miss out on playing their instruments,” said Daniels principal Gina Wells. “It’s a win-win program.”

Students auditioned last fall to participate in this weekend’s festival. Over 1,000 students from 30 counties auditioned this year, said John Miller, manager of community programs at the Yale School of Music and music director at the Daniels school. Each student fills out an application , and performs a solo piece in addition to scales and sight reading for the judges, who then give each student a score that will determine placement.

Two Daniels students will be playing in the world drumming ensemble, two in the orchestra and 10 in the concert band, with an additional student attending as an alternate.

Last year, before Yale students started teaching at the school, only three students could attend the festival, Miller said.

“The kids really work hard and they enjoy it so much, so it’s really great to work with them,” said Jaehee Choi MUS ’10, who teaches clarinet at John C. Daniels about eight hours a week. “No matter how difficult they say [a piece] is, eventually they accomplish it.”

A group of Yale alumni from the class of 1957 started the music outreach program at Yale with a $5 million gift to the School of Music eight years ago.

Inspired by the enthusiasm of the music students at her school, Wells herself, who had never played an instrument before, started taking saxophone lessons. She added that she hopes to catch up with the children and join them in class soon.

Many teachers from across the academic board at the middle school were eager to jump into the music program, Miller said. Two students stayed after school to help their Physical Education teacher learn to play the xylophone for a black history month initiative. The language arts teacher, who also started taking lessons, currently plays flute duets with students, while the school literacy coach plays the saxophone and collaborates closely with Wells.

Marleen Kim, a PTA officer on the Music Advisory Committee whose first-grade son takes guitar lessons, said teachers have enjoyed playing music with the students. This, she said, enables the students to see their teachers in a different light.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for someone as young as my son, who started this year to learn an instrument,” Kim said. “As a mother, I think it is important for students to learn instruments because it helps with cognitive thinking and with academics. It’s great to see them enjoy and appreciate music on a different level.”

The students perform informal duets and chamber pieces, sometimes with Yale students, to an audience of students, teachers and parents, at least once every other week at the school.

“It’s very motivating for the kids to see what they could be if they continue performing and practicing,” Miller said. He added that many of the eighth graders began composing their own pieces, some dedicated to their Yale teachers.

Wells added that one of the school’s goals is to place their students into magnet schools that support music programs.

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