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    INTRODUCTION TO ELEMENTARY INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC AT DECATUR

    Let me take this opportunity to give you an overview of the instrumental music program offered to 5th graders (and fourth graders through the support of the PTA and the parents of Decatur).  The goal of the program is to prepare Decatur students to contribute to the bands and orchestras in middle school and beyond, enjoying the learning of music, the instrument of their choice, and all the opportunities available to musicians in school and in the community.

    There are many benefits to participation in musical ensembles; cognitive, emotional, social and a general sense of fulfillment leading to competence, and sensitivity to culture and differing perspective.  The core values of a musician are respect and commitment.  Respect for the best contribution of all members of the ensemble, and by extension to the means of communication of people of all culture, groups and creeds.  Commitment to learning an instrument, to making a better contribution to the ensemble, and to making the world a more welcoming place for everyone who wishes to make a positive contribution.

    The program (EIM for Elementary Instrumental Music) offers small group lessons for beginners on instruments of the band and orchestra, including violin, viola and cello, flute and clarinet, trumpet and trombone.  If time in the schedule allows, some other instruments can possibly be added, including saxophone and percussion.  Second year players (or students who are taking private lessons) will be combined into “advanced” (second year) ensembles.  In the beginning groups, emphasis is placed upon proper technique and music reading, leading to proficiency on the individual instrument.  In the later groups more emphasis is placed upon the skills of playing in an ensemble; blending individual responsibility for instrument proficiency with playing one’s part in a manner that complements the whole ensemble effort.

    Class time is limited to one session per week; half an hour for the beginners, and as much as 45 minutes for the advanced ensembles (due to larger class sizes).  The nature of learning an instrument, much like any other discipline skill that is so dependent upon psychomotor skill development, requires regular, consistent personal practice time.  Recommended time commitment is a minimum of 20 minutes a day, 4 to 5 days a week.  This is absolutely necessary to develop the skills necessary to contribute to the ensemble through personal competence.  This is not merely an information learning experience, nor is it a guided development course like many after school programs.  This requires consistent, focused, concentration in an environment where the student is unlikely to be distracted. 

    Most people will include “fun” as one of the primary attributes of music; at least that is what most students respond when I ask them the purpose of music.  Fun is (hopefully) a byproduct of the musical process, but the purpose of music is to communication: communication of emotion, of those higher and nobler ideals that make a civilization and society possible.  I am talking of respect, dealing with people with honor and graciousness even when (especially when) agreement is not likely or possible.  I don’t say all musicians are easy to get along with: however, I will claim that most musicians are better than average at continuing to be civil in the midst of disagreeable situation.  At least, that has been my experience.  I characterize musical involvement as being fulfilling, exciting and worthwhile, and, incidentally, a lot of fun!

    I am pleased to be able to teach in this program, going on 18 years, contributing students to the exceptional bands and orchestras at Washington MS and Garfield HS in years past, and looking to contribute students to Jane Adams MS and beyond currently. 

    Tim Burk
    Instrumental Music Teacher


    IMPORTANT CARE INSTRUCTIONS FOR YOUR INSTRUMENT

    Please carefully follow these instruction for the care and safe use of your musical instrument; a well- maintained instrument will make it much easier to play and enjoy.

    1.        The instrument case provides a convenient place to store and carry your instrument.  The case does not provide protection from unsafe use.  Examples include using the case as a stool (sitting on it at the bus stop, etc.) or carelessly throwing the case around.  Instruments can be damaged inside cases that are dropped or shaken.

    2.       Where the instrument is assembled and played at is almost as important as how the instrument is treated.  For instance, opening the case on the playground or bus stop to “show off” for friends invites experimentation by others which could cause potential damage to the instrument.  Only the child who is studying the instrument (and select adults) should be allowed to touch it.  This means that the only safe places to remove the instrument from the case is your home and the instrumental music room.  If you want your friends to hear you play, invite them to your home.

    3.       Using care when assembling the instrument and being aware of the space around you (watch out for chairs, table, sharp edges, etc.) will reduce the risk of damage to the instrument. 

    4.       All instruments are designed to produce beautiful music.  This means that they are delicate and easily bent or broken.  Hold them as taught, protect them and they will make it possible for you to make increasingly beautiful music.

    5.       Wooden instruments (many clarinets and all string instruments) are sensitive to extreme changes in temperature.  This means that these instruments should not be stored near heat sources and should not be opened outside.  Use care when moving them from cold to warm environments (don’t set the case down in the snow, then put it close to a heat source when you come inside). 

    You will learn how to hold and treat your instrument and will soon feel more at ease with it.  You will then be able to focus on producing good tone and making beautiful music with your friends.  I hope you enjoy the process!