Nicholas Rodriguez, band director for both BT Wilson Sixth Grade students and the Hal Peterson Middle School students for the fourth year, is leading mostly new and some continuing musicians to become part of cohesive bands at the two campuses.
They are making music this school year in spite of the virus pandemic conditions, and some are learning, practicing and performing virtually.
“Things usually happen March through May the previous spring to recruit band students, and we would visit the elementary schools to place them on instruments,” Rodriguez said. “And the elementary students would visit BT Wilson for a beginning band concert to watch and listen. But we couldn’t do those things, so we had fewer kids register for the two band programs.”
This year the HPMS band drew about 100 student members; and the BT Wilson band has about 60 members.
Most of the students, especially at BT Wilson, are new to playing an instrument. Rodriguez said a few have had music lessons at the Kroc Center classes; and quite a few of the string players started in the Hill Country Youth Orchestra lessons and concerts.
“We fit each student to an instrument based on the student’s personality, and, for many of them, how their mouth is shaped to make the best sound on the right instrument. Every mouth is shaped a certain way and so are the instruments,” he said. “We try to match that and keep them happy and successful with their instruments.”
He said many of them enter the program asking for drums, saxophone or trombone. So he has to start with their interests, and guide them to the right choices.
“We have a full ensemble with all the instruments. And the students perform in three bands, the Honors, Symphonic, or Concert bands.”
He said, at HPMS, they are now doing more Peterson Fine Arts activities together, as one alternative.
“The town is very supportive, but the Tivy band is really big for most people. But this program feeds into the high school band.”
The HPMS students have gotten their instruments, he said; but they were about one week away from getting the instruments for the BTW students.
They also are still recruiting more band members for the BT Wilson group. And he and his assistant Erica Garcia each have a beginning band group for seventh graders at HPMS.
“When they start at BT Wilson, we can focus on them for three years, before they go to Tivy,” Rodriguez said. “But we also take them to Spike Night, and attend a Tivy football game where they sit with the Tivy Band and get to go out on the football field with them at halftime.”
Rodriguez said it’s possible to start in beginning band at the high school, but harder to schedule that elective while also starting to schedule one’s required credits for graduation.
Rodriguez said the high school leadership from the band also comes to visit his band students at HPMS.
“We make frequent visits to the Tivy Band,” he said.
More virtual resources
He said they are using more technological resources this year. Some students are doing band assignments at home; and Rodriguez listens to each of those students one at a time.
“I tell them they can practice the lesson more than once and then send me the best one.”
He said before school started, his “mental check” for his lessons was, “Is this do-able and achievable for them?
“Then we tested the software after we got some for free to check it out.”
He said on some sites, a designated piece of music can be played on the computer, and the kids can play along with it at home, using something called “Flip-Grid.”
“The kids record themselves playing the piece with their instrument; and then send it in to me, on a program called ‘SmartMusic’.”
“At sixth grade, the students grow and mature and learn the hard work of a new language,” he said. “Some get it fast and some have to work on it longer. The BT Wilson and Peterson classes build muscle memory for music.”
This year, he said he and Garcia are working to provide some “normality” and a little experience for the students, and to get the community involved, too.
He said he and Garcia also spread their talents around by working with the Tivy marching band.