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Farmington Community Education: Young music makers

Tana Christenson has been teaching summer band to students going into fifth grade over the past six weeks. She and fellow instructor Darren Asleson are working with approximately 240 students this summer. The students are learning the very basics, like how to open their cases without spilling contents, fingerings, and posture. Classes have been held at Meadowview Elementary School since June 11.

Teacher Tana Christenson's summer vacation has been anything but quiet so far, but that's okay. She's spent the first six weeks teaching summer band to students going into fifth grade, and that will go a long way come September.

Christenson and Darren Asleson teach beginning instrumental music to the fifth graders of the Farmington School District. They get a jump start on the school year by working with students through Community Ed during the summer.

This summer, the two have worked with about 240 new band students through the program.

"Most of the kids are just going into fifth grade," Christenson said. "It's still the, 'This is how you open your case so you don't dump your pieces on the floor,' phase."

Not all of the new band students are enrolled in summer courses, but about two-thirds of the kids who signed up for fifth grade band are. They've been working with Asleson and Christenson since the Monday after school got out, and wrapped up their classes this week.

During the first week, students met with the two teachers twice, but they've been coming once a week since. The teachers cannot meet with every student on a one-to-one basis -- there are just too many students enrolled for that -- so the kids are put into groups of four or five. They come for half-hour lessons and work on a little bit of everything, Christenson said.

"We're teaching them the very basics at this level, from opening the cases to good posture, to good embouchure, the fingerings, the notes, and so on. We're teaching them some music reading, but they've learned so much of that from their general music teachers already that we don't have to spend a lot of time on that. I love the general music teachers. They've done a great job with the kids," she said.

Taking the summer lessons gives students entering the band program a head start. Christenson and Asleson find students have more time for practicing their new skill during the summer, as well. Once the school year starts, kids are often involved in multiple after-school programs and don't have as much time to work on their instrumental music skills.

While the summer program gives kids a head start, Christenson said the students who have not been enrolled in summer band usually catch up pretty quickly once the school year starts. With six weeks from the last lessons to the beginning of the school year, those who have been in summer band usually have to have a little refresher course anyway.

Christenson knows that learning a new instrument can be a big undertaking. For the most part, kids are excited to take on the challenge, she said.

"If you're teaching them properly it helps with the frustration. We have a lot of patience with them. It's so new, and there's so much to learn. It takes quite a bit of coordination to get all of those pieces together in order to create a nice sound," she said.

Asleson and Christenson are teaching all of the instruments available to students at this level. Some of the more advanced instruments - the --bassoon, the baritone saxophone, the bass clarinet and so on -- come later, after kids have developed the elementary skills. But the drums, trumpet, saxophone, flute and so on are all taught during the summer. There are even a few tuba players in the mix.

"We have them in a three-fourths size tuba. If they're too short, we'll stick them on phone books until they're tall enough to read the notes," Christenson said.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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