Covid stopped the music. Now this school is hitting the band again.
Surrounded by classroom walls with colorful violins and music theory posters, Roshan Reddy counted three. He raised his palm, a chorus of blazing horns and woodwinds hum to life, and the first notes of Adele’s “Easy on Me” filled the bandroom at Brooklyn’s PS11 Elementary School.
Despite the sound of the clarinet and the occasional rogue saxophone, nearly every student was smiling.
Two years was a long time for Sri Reddy’s fourth and fifth grade band students and for music teachers and their students in New York City. According to teachers and experts, when the Covid-19 pandemic closed schools, the PS11’s concerts were one of many struggling to transition online, during some of the most critical years for music’s development among children. Interrupting the introduction of music.
PS 11 students who had equipment at home practiced in their grandparents’ basements, in their living rooms, on fire escapes. But many had left their devices behind, and had to watch from the sidelines as their teammates tried to spend time with each other on Google Meet.
Fifth grade student Diara Brent, a budding saxophonist, was disappointed that in the chaos of school closures, she could not bring her saxophone home. “I was typing like crazy into chats that I didn’t have the means,” she said. “I just heard them play. I couldn’t do anything.”
Now that the students of the PS 11 band are back in the classroom, they are rediscovering their confidence as musicians. But filling in a lost instruction hole is no small task. “Covid has put an end to my schedule,” said Sri Reddy, the school’s band director. “It hasn’t come back for every student the way it was.”
The pandemic disrupted musical instruction at a crucial moment for many elementary school children – in the years when their brains were starting to make “sound to meaning” connections. In New York City public schools, primary music instruction, which had been stable for five years, declined 11 percent between the 2019-20 school year and 2020-21, according to the New York City Department of Education of the Arts in Schools report.
For students whose access to music education comes through their public schools, the pandemic school closures were particularly disruptive. But research also shows that music can help children rebuild what was lost.
PS 11’s principal, Abidemi Hope, said that having a music program at the school helps her students develop skills beyond academic preparation, such as refining listening and speaking, learning to ask questions and doing complex research. It is also about giving her economically diverse school students access to music, regardless of their economic status.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to touch at least one instrument, learn an instrument, understand that instrument, play that instrument,” she said.
When Ms. Hope was made principal in 2014, the school was academically focused and the concert program was small – about 40 students. “I’ve always wanted to change that,” she said.
Ms Hope hired Roshan Reddy, a working musician, as a full-time music director for her band program in 2018. He had already spent two years as a substitute teacher for the New York State Department of Education, and taught in nearly every neighborhood. in Brooklyn, but he was impressed by Principal Hope’s approach to concerts.
“Principal Hope is always trying something new,” said Sri Reddy. “You feel like you’ve hit the limit and then Ms. Hope is like we need to go up a little bit more.”
By the end of Sri Reddy’s first year, classes for string instruments, guitar and ukulele were added. “Before it was really selective,” said Sri Reddy. “When I came in, I wasn’t going to say no to anyone.”
The program quadrupled in size, supported with a mix of school and PTA funds. At their final concert in the spring of 2019, enthusiastic concert students performed for three hours. “The guys who played earlier started giving up by the end of it because it was just too long. They were like ‘I have to go home.'” Sri Reddy said with a laugh.
The class of 2020 of the PS11 didn’t get to play the final concert. When schools closed in March, Sri Reddy wrapped electrical cords, tied up classroom chairs, de-tuned the violins, cleaned his instruments, and packed them in the band room closet for storage. done.
Virtual learning was challenging. “Initially it was a nightmare,” said Sri Reddy. He spent hours creating video recording assignments for students to upload to his Google Classroom. Over the summer he scoured YouTube looking for any ideas to bolster his course.
In the next school year, each music student received a recorder or guitar to play in the classroom. Students used Chrome Music Lab to create songs and submit them as assignments. But nothing compared to being in a physical class, and some students stopped attending, Mr Reddy said.
Julian Sanon started out as one of Sri Reddy’s violin students in the second grade. He did not attend online music classes during the pandemic. Instead, he, his father, and his brothers played music together at home and even formed a family band that lasted a week. But Sanon missed his individual music classes at school, where he could play more complex arrangements with his friends in the drum line.
Now that school is back in person, “everyone around you is connected in a single melody,” said Sanon in one of his favorite places: Sri Reddy’s music hall.
“Yeah,” shouted another fifth grader in the drum line, Miles Dutra. “Because you have to play in harmony. If one person messes up, everyone messes up.”
Sanon shook his head. “So, when you fix it, it’s kind of peaceful.” They said.
Next year, budget cuts could force some schools to reevaluate their arts programs. The school budget is typically tied to the number of students enrolled, and many schools will see a decrease in the next school year, as the number of students in New York City’s public schools has declined by 6.4 percent since the start of the pandemic. .
Elizabeth Guglielmo, music director for NYC Public Schools, said music was hard hit during the pandemic, but art is essential to the resocialization process. “It has always been our hope to see this as a core theme,” said Ms Guglielmo.
In PS11, enrollment declined by about 3 percent between this school year and the last one, according to Ms. Hope, who said she may have to rely more heavily on the PS11’s relatively larger PTA budget, a resource that many Schools do not have it. , to fund the concert. “I hope Meyer is able to rethink how we invest in our children,” she said.
As his final elementary school year draws to a close, Jair Johnson, a 10-year-old percussionist who made his drum out of cardboard in his apartment during the pandemic, can be found Thursday at drum line practice with a shiny aluminum harness. drumming on his shoulders.
Johnson likes to have all of the classroom equipment at her fingertips. “You can try congas, violin, piano, djembas, guitar,” he said. One instrument he doesn’t recommend is the cello, but he prefers to “hold the guitar and just start playing”. “It’s calming for me.”
In the evenings at home, Johnson watches instructional drumming videos on YouTube and uses scenes from the 2002 film “Drumline” to learn new percussion techniques.
Sri Reddy recognizes enthusiasm from his early days as a musician, when he was growing up on a rural farm in Delaware. “Music was my best friend,” he said.
In school, music instilled confidence and allowed her to participate socially in class without words. It now does the same for their sober students. “Kids really find their voice through music in a way they can’t find through anything else,” he said.
As PS11’s fifth class of 2022 gears up for graduation this month, some of Sri Reddy’s students have already accepted placements in middle schools with special music programmes. One goal of the band program is to prepare students for more challenging musical instruction. But mostly, Sri Reddy says, he wants kids to leave school to love music.
“It’s not about trying to make a little Mozart, it’s about the students finding their strengths,” he said. “We are the people who have to move the music forward in this moment.”