An elite ensemble

Concert: Howard's all-county band of elementary students is set to perform in a concert at 7:30 tonight.

March 28, 2001|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Some of Howard County's elite musicians measure less than 5-feet tall. They are the youthful tunesters of the all-county elementary school band. Their bandmasters, Mike Blackman and Kendall Davis, use words such as "amazing," "incredible" and "totally focused" to describe these musicians.

Members of the Howard County Elementary School Band have been practicing for the past two months in preparation for their concert at 7:30 tonight at Hammond High School. The all-county band members were selected during countywide auditions in January. Those chosen gained the privilege of taking part in the demanding, twice-a-week, two-hour practice sessions at Mount View Middle School.

Each year, the county's 37 elementary schools send their best student musicians to county band auditions. This year, 150 kids tried out and 51 were selected. Most are fifth-graders, but this year's band also includes one third-grader.

Kendall Davis, a music teacher at Pointers Run Elementary School, and Mike Blackman, who teaches at Triadelphia Ridge and West Friendship Elementary schools, have directed the band together for the past four years.

"It's up to us," says Davis, "to get a great ensemble sound [from] a bunch of kids who have never been together."

Both bandleaders believe that the commitment and musicality of the children make this goal achievable.

"We leave the average kid behind," Blackman says. "These are all the kids who are tired of their friends not bringing their instrument to school or not practicing ... and they really get a kick out of being with other kids [like themselves]."

The fifth-graders in the band agree. Bass clarinetist Christy Pettis of Glenwood says, "The music is so challenging, and the people are so nice. I have met a lot of people that I really find I have lots of things in common with."

Devi Kumar of Clarksville brought cupcakes to share at a practice and enthuses that "Mr. Davis and Mr. Blackman are fun, and they're not like boring and serious."

She thinks that the best part of band is "actually playing the music."

Alexander Bahden, a Clarksville resident who plays saxophone in the band, emphasizes the importance of practice for success. But he says that "the fun part is when you get to play something ... the whole piece."

During rehearsals, Davis and Blackman operate as a team, alternating between directing the band and roaming among the players to listen and correct. Players are encouraged to "keep the integrity of your instrument alive," and trumpeters are admonished to "drop the jaw and blow."

The band rehearses the beat by clapping, or by calling out the rhythms with a "ti, ti, ti, ta, ta."

According to Barbara King, instructional facilitator for music in the Howard County schools, there are several select music groups for schoolchildren.

The elementary and middle school orchestras meet year-round, as does the elementary school chorus. The high school orchestra meets in the fall. The elementary and middle school bands meet January through March and share the bill at a yearly concert.

Davis and Blackman listen to and judge student groups in other counties. "The level of music-making in [Howard County] is ... superior," says Davis.

Music lovers can decide for themselves after hearing the elementary and middle school bands play tonight.

Blackman calls the middle school band "phenomenal" and notes that, compared with the elementary band, the middle-schoolers add "two years of maturity" to their musical talent.

"It's all about the music here," Davis says.

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