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Two fourth grade boys slide into their seats, grab their trumpets out of their cases, set out their music, and start playing “Wipe Out” by the Safaris even before Carly Spaeth-Walsh starts practice. She jumps in and starts snapping her fingers to the beat while handing out sheet music to the students who have forgotten theirs.
“I’m going to stop you there,” said Spaeth-Walsh, taking her place at the keyboard at the front of the classroom. She riffs with scales and chords while reviewing the week’s schedule with the students. The band concert is two days away.
“Can we take out ‘Lean on Me,’” said Spaeth-Walsh. “We’re going to practice it the way it’s going to be at the concert."
Kirin’s trumpet valve is sticky. Spaeth-Walsh takes the instrument and applies valve oil while singing “Lean on Me;” counting out the beats instead of using words. Her confidence spills over to the students. They are disciplined, eager, and sound good. Even two days before the concert the mood is easy.
Small group lessons like this happen across the district at the elementary level once a week. The teachers are versatile musicians. Spaeth-Walsh meets with woodwind, brass and percussion students. Linda Kirchenbaum, the district’s elementary orchestra teacher, gives lessons to violin, cello, and bass students, and Christian Provetto meets with fourth grade orchestra and band students at Meadow Pond Elementary School.
Students who sign up for chorus meet with Melissa Richardson at Meadow Pond Elementary and Carly Spaeth at Increase Miller and Katonah Elementary Schools.
Each school's fourth grade string players rehearse as an ensemble three or four times before a concert. Fifth grade string students rehearse once a week as an orchestra.
Orchestra, band, and chorus are optional for fourth and fifth graders. Approximately 90 % choose to participate. Students can be in chorus and an instrumental group, but not both band and orchestra because of rehearsal conflicts.
Linda Kirshenbaum teaches elementary orchestra across the Katonah-Lewisboro School District. Her primary instrument is piano.
“I am so pleased to see my students improve their use of the bow,” said Kirchenbaum. “When you play a string instrument it’s like you are playing two different instruments. Your left hand plays the notes, but your bow hand has to be relaxed.”
Carly Spaeth-Walsh teaches band in all three elementary buildings, and chorus at Katonah Elementary and Increase Miller Elementary Schools. Her primary instrument is voice.
“There is tremendous growth in students in their first year of instrumental study,” said Spaeth. “Our students come to us needing to be taught how to properly open their cases and put together their instruments and by the end of the year, they are successfully playing multiple parts as an ensemble. This is pretty impressive progress!”
Melissa Richardson directs the chorus at Meadow Pond Elementary School. She is also the general music teacher there and works with all of the students. Her primary instrument is the French Horn, but she plays the piano and guitar to accompany her students.
“I try to have every student in the school participate in a musical performance every year,” said Ricahrdson. “I’m especially proud of my students for their willingness to perform on stage with joy and enthusiasm.”
Christian Provetto works with fourth grade band and orchestra students at Meadow Pond Elementary. Piano is his primary instrument.
"For the first time this year, I committed to making composition a part of my curriculum, and both groups will perform an original composition at our respective concerts," said Provetto. "I couldn’t be more thrilled with the work they’ve done!"
All elementary students take a general music class twice a week with lead teachers April Higgins at Increase Miller Elementary, Melissa Richardson at Meadow Pond Elementary, and Michael Gelfer at Katonah Elementary School.
“Our elementary curriculum gives students a good music foundation,” said Jennifer Fraczek, the band teacher at John Jay Middle School. “If I say coda or quarter note to a sixth grader, they know what I’m talking about.”
There are many performance opportunities throughout the school year. All three schools have a third-grade recorder concert. Increase Miller Elemetary programs include a fifth grade musical and a second grade Flag Day concert. Katonah Elemetary first graders perform for the school’s Thanksgiving Feast, and fourth graders participate in an Orff Instrument Ensemble. Meadow Pond kindergarteners stage a musical, “Mrs. Wishy-Washy,” and various groups perform at monthly Town Meetings.