After a lapse of nearly two decades, the sounds of trumpets and clarinets are once again being heard in the corridors of Warman High School (WHS).
A school band program launched this fall at WHS attracted about 70 Grade 8 and 9 students. It’s the first time in a generation where kids at the school will have an opportunity to learn the basics of music theory while mastering the vagaries of their chosen instruments. The last time band instruction was offered at WHS was in 1998.
But WHS isn’t the only school getting tuned in to the new program. Warman Community Middle School (WCMS) also has 70 Grade 7 students enrolled in band classes.
“It’s been a while coming to this area of Prairie Spirit School Division (PSSD),” said Monika MacKenzie, band director at WHS and WCMS. “There are two other areas of PSSD that have band programs, but this is different in that it is a formal, time-tabled instrumental music class.
“In the PSSD East and PSSD West band programs, the kids have to leave their regularly scheduled classes, like math or science, to attend band classes because that’s when the band teacher is in the school.
“With this new program, the students don’t have to sacrifice any of their other class time. The music becomes an added component to their learning.”
MacKenzie, who started the PSSD East band program in 1999, transferred to WHS three years ago and took up duties as a regular Grade 8 teacher.
“The day I arrived, Michael Collins, who was principal of WHS at the time, recognized my skills and he said, ‘I think we need to build a band program here’,” said MacKenzie in an interview on Wednesday, October 5. “So it’s been a couple of years in the making. There are some start-up costs like music stands, big drums and so on that the school has to cover. But the administration team felt it was worthwhile and they made it happen.”
Last spring, when plans for a fall start-up of the WHS band program were more solid, WCMS Principal Greg Tebay helped extend the program to the middle school.
“Greg really wanted the kids in Grade 7 to have an introduction to music and band,” said MacKenzie. “So now I split my time teaching at both the high school and the middle school.”
An evening “Squeak and Squawk” event for band students was held September 26, where PSSD East band alumni and members of the Warman Community Band held clinics in classrooms to introduce students to the various instruments.
“They learned how to assemble their instrument, how to hold it, and how to make some sounds on it,” said MacKenzie.
She said one of the nice perks of teaching band at the middle school is the theatre’s echo-absorbing acoustic atmosphere.
“This theatre is fantastic,” she said. “It’s the first time in 23 years I’ve been able to teach in a facility like this. It doesn’t mean you can’t teach band in a regular classroom or gymnasium stage or school foyer, but it sure sounds better in a place designed for this kind of thing.”
MacKenzie is planning to hold Christmas concerts with the school bands in mid- to late December, and also to take the bands to Regina in the spring to compete in the band festival.
“My hope is that the kids see this as something they can enjoy for the rest of their lives,” she said. “Music isn’t just a one-off experience. They can learn and enjoy this year after year.”