Brandon Tambellini knows that high school can be a difficult time for students. He tells his students at Blackhawk High School that instead of focusing on “what I can do,” they must focus on “what we can do.” He says, “In every group, every private lesson, at every level, we put our energy into creating music together, and students have found that they have grown together, which has changed the culture of ‘me’ to the culture of ‘we.’ At its core, students join band because they want to make music, but they also create lifelong friendships, establish a positive work ethic and inspire each other to strive for success.”
When the pandemic forced the closure of the school, the band director continued to have his students focus on their ability to make music despite the inability to play together. “Although the world was shifting and changing around us, it did not eliminate our love for the craft,” he says. “My job was to teach music in whatever format possible. When we returned to school, we found that our love for music as a group was deeper, and we were able to give more to the process of learning and performing because of the independent growth of each student during our time apart.”
The return to school after the shutdown made Tambellini analyze what the district needed from music education, which led him to make a controversial decision — he removed the Blackhawk marching band from the competitive season. “As much as I wanted to put together an impressive competition show, our students and community needed something else,” he explains. “Instead, we focused on a football-style show. At the same time, I still scheduled, rehearsed and treated the group the same as if they were competing. Good music is still good music.”
Another recent change to the music program was adding Jazz Band to the curricular school day. A unique aspect of Blackhawk High School’s schedule is that there are classes during the 30-minute homeroom period. “I decided that a jazz/homeroom class would be an easy way to have rehearsal every day without interfering with after-school activities,” Tambellini says. “My students were excited and felt that making music together would be a great way to start the day. Regardless of the 7:30 a.m. start time, the Jazz Band has doubled in size in one year and continues to grow.”
The Jazz Band recently attended the Winter Lights Festival in Beaver Falls. Even though it was a bone-chilling 20 degrees, the students performed extremely well and “the members of the community complimented them for weeks following the performance,” Tambellini says. “Music educators must teach our students to give back to our community by giving the gift of music. Businesses, nursing homes, charities and other community-sponsored events are continuously looking for ensembles to perform, and the students need to know that their music means something to the community.”
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