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Group’s goal is music for life

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Part of the village’s strong arts identity lies in the depth and breadth of its musical heritage. Now, a group of parents, community members and teachers have organized to ensure this strong musical tradition — and the skills that ground it — carry forward through further generations.

“We feel it’s important that we continue that for the youth of the community, that they feel that and experience that,” Dennis Farmer, the school district’s band director, said of the village’s deep engagement in music. And a major goal of the relatively new Yellow Springs Music Boosters group is to encourage youth to become life-long musicians, he said.

In the Yellow Springs schools, music training begins in the fifth and sixth grades, with about three-and-a-half weekly class hours of hands-on time with an instrument of the student’s choice. Middle and high school students can opt out of further music training, or they can choose music electives, resulting in up to one music class each day of the school week.

However, it is increasingly difficult for middle and high school students to schedule music electives in the upper grades because of the need for other classes required to graduate, members said. This difficulty (along with a recent funding cut to the orchestra director position) has contributed to some frustration in the community, which has been expressed by parents and music advocates at school board meetings and in letters to the News.

But the music boosters group officially formed prior to the cuts, because the school district’s music faculty believed there was a clear need to involve parents and community members in music education.

“We realize how much we can do when everyone’s helping,” Farmer said.

While there are many organizations whose members play music together for fun or for performance in the village, and some of these organizations involve youth, the new music boosters group plans to focus on supporting music in the schools.

To this end, the music boosters have focused their efforts on a few key areas: mentoring for young musicians, supporting roles that require no musical skills and, in the future, fundraising and instrument donation to ensure that students and teachers have what they need to succeed.

“Traditionally, music teachers have support groups of some kind to support whatever they are doing in the classroom,” parent Mary Beth Burkholder said.

Mentors are simply volunteer musicians who coach small groups of students in class to support the core music teacher, according to Hannah Village, a local musician who, along with Cammy Grote, helps organize mentors and students.

Community members who play any instrument — be it wind, string or percussion — are invited to coach students in instrument-specific breakout sessions during class time. Collaboration between elder musicians in the community and younger ones should be a positive thing that both elder musicians and those who are learning enjoy, organizers believe.

“It’s a great experience for the kids to see these adults who do keep music in their life, their whole life, continuing to enjoy and love it,” Burkholder said. “The experiences I have had where adults in the community play with the youth are always very beneficial.”

But you don’t have to be nimble with an instrument to support music in the schools, according to the music boosters group. Roles for the less musically inclined include chaperoning, being on call to help with whatever the music department might need at a given moment and helping with set up and tear down of music department events.

The next music department event is the fifth annual alumni-community-student concert, to be held at the high school on Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. Community musicians and alumni musicians get together with current middle school and high school musicians to play in sequenced collaborations.

“This allows kids from a small district to sit in a large band setting, surrounded by big sound,” Farmer said. The event also places young musicians next to those who are more experienced, which members feel can inspire youth to continue their studies.

The next annual event, also in its fifth year, is the Springfest concert, an all-school ensemble, featuring grades 5–12 and held outdoors (weather-permitting) on the Mills Lawn grounds alongside art and fun activities. This year’s Springfest is May 21, and the music boosters hope to organize support volunteers who are willing to man the grills and collect donations.

“Musically, concerts are great collaborations,” Farmer said. “But they are also great collaborations culturally and community-wise.”

Beyond supporting the annual coupon book sale, which helps fund the yearly high school music department senior trip, the boosters group is not yet sure what form future fundraising activities might take. But instrument donations to the schools will continue to be routed to those students who need the long-term loans, and the group is up for suggestions.

The music boosters meet each second Monday of the month, at 6:40 p.m., in the music room at the high school, and all interested community members are welcome to attend. The next meeting is Feb. 8. The group may or may not have dues of $5 for membership, but don’t let that deter you, members said. More information about how to get involved with the music boosters is available from Dennis Farmer at

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