Bringing back band

At Windom, a pent-up demand for instrumental music

WINDOM — It may not be the ideal rehearsal space.

But, every Wednesday, for half an hour, almost every fourth- and fifth-grade student at Windom Dual Spanish Immersion and Open School makes his or her way to the band room, a converted teachers lounge in the school’s basement. There, band instructor Scott Erickson works with small groups of beginning players in preparation for Windom’s spring concert.

If Erickson can pull it off, it will be the first band concert at Windom in at least three years, and likely longer.

Like many district schools, Windom cut music education earlier this decade, when Minneapolis Public Schools [MPS] first began to feel the effects of declining enrollment and tighter budgets. This year, Windom was one of the latest schools to re-start a band program with the help of a $25,000 grant from the VH1 Save the Music Foundation.

There was immediate and immense interest among Windom families. All but one or two of the eligible students are enrolled in band this year, "a huge percentage" for any school, Erickson said.

The school’s experience illustrates the difficulty of finding room for band in an era of shrinking budgets, as well as the dedication of many parents and district administrators to music education.

Parent Teacher Organization Co-Chairwoman Tracy Brokering said she hoped the new band program would make Windom a more attractive option for area families.

"Honestly, not having a band program at Windom [was] kind of a detriment, especially when you’re trying to recruit," Brokering said.

That said, she quickly added that Windom’s dual Spanish immersion program has been and will be the school’s strongest selling point. That’s what attracted parent Johannah Bomster to Windom.

"[My children] were getting the Spanish, which is huge, and I thought, well, there are some things you have to give up," Bomster said.

Still, she recognized the potential of band to teach fine motor skills, mathematical thinking and an appreciation of music. Her children Mimi, 10, and Jonas, 9, both joined band this school year.

MPS Fine Arts Coordinator Pat Teske said the district was committed to returning instrumental music to all schools, largely through its collaboration with VH1, a relationship that goes back to 2006.

In 2006, when the School Board adopted a Comprehensive Arts Plan, 41 of 64 of district schools had instrumental music programs, about 64 percent. Today, instrumental music is offered in more than 80 percent of district schools.

Not all students participate in band, putting it in the category of an extra-curricular or enrichment activity and leaving it vulnerable to budget cuts. It went on the chopping block at many schools that were able to retain visual arts or choir classes.

Some schools found creative solutions to that problem.

When Burroughs Community School had to cut band, parents and Principal Tim Cadotte forged a partnership with nearby Mount Olivet Lutheran Church to provide after-school music lessons. Families must pay $400 tuition for the program, but the school offers some scholarships.

At Windom, it took Principal Tami VanOverbeke’s efforts to go after the VH1 grant and find the funding for Erickson to get band back in her school.

"[Next year] I’m dedicated to having at least what we’ve started, because we’ve had such an amazing response," VanOverbeke said.