Take a room full of fifth grade students who have never played an instrument. Now turn them into a band. Sounds pretty challenging, right? Not for Stephanie Bloom, the band teacher at Sunset Ridge Intermediate School and View Ridge Middle School.
In the beginning, students go step by step. They learn to open the cases and assemble their instruments. Then they progress to holding the instrument, making the mouth shapes to create sounds, and blowing air through the instrument. Finally, Bloom guides her students through learning the notes. “This is the first time all of them are starting their instruments, so it’s kind of a level playing field when we start,” she said. “You just have to have a structure and some patience.” She makes it seem easy.
In college, Bloom had to learn to assemble and play all the band instruments so she could be a more effective instructor. She played clarinet, saxophone, and trumpet for college performance bands. Now she enjoys helping her students learn to play.
The students practice in a bright, airy room specifically designed for band use. It has excellent acoustics and plenty of storage for band instruments. Nearby is the choir room. Having separate rooms means students can choose to take band or choir instead of just one general music class. It gives them the opportunity to be in band from fifth through eighth grade if they want to continue with their instrument.
“In fifth and sixth grade, students have band class two days a week. In seventh and eighth grade, students have it every day,” Bloom explained. “So when they get to seventh grade, the progression is so much faster. They grow immensely from the beginning of seventh grade to the end of the eighth grade.”
Seventh and eighth grade band brings new opportunities as well, including an extracurricular jazz band, auditions for local and state honor bands, and performing for Ridgefield’s Hometown Celebration in December. Marching band is also part of the seventh and eighth grade curriculum. They take part in regional parades, including the Hazel Dell Parade of Bands and a marching band competition in Long Beach. (Last year’s band placed second.)
With three concerts a year for seventh and eighth graders and two concerts a year for fifth and sixth graders, Bloom has a busy schedule. But it is worth it to her. “Students don’t have to have the goal of being a musician,” she said. “You get something just from being in a band or choir. It’s something they are part of, like a family.” A smile lights up her face. “I love teaching band. We always have fun!”