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Sound of Music

Members of this year's Music in Catholic Schools' Honor Band pose with instructors (from left) Debra Lund, Dan Irvin, Professor Charles Miller, Erika Hipsher and Melissa Delaney following their 2003 Christmas concert at Marian High School in Omaha.
Catholic Schools Program celebrates 25 years of taking the benefits of band lessons to students

By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

For the past 25 years, Catholic school students have experienced the power of instrumental music, thanks to the Music in Catholic Schools Program.

The program provides band lessons at a number of Omaha's Catholic schools. When a school can't afford to hire a band teacher, instructors from Music in Catholic Schools teach instead. The service is free to schools, but parents must pay to have their children in band.

"The arts are a basic part of being human and music is one of those arts," said Debra Lund, administrator of Music in Catholic Schools since its beginnings. "If children are not given the opportunity to learn about music and participate in music, it's difficult to make up for that loss."

Students benefit from being in band, whether they play for one year, 10 years or for the rest of their life, she said.

"They'll learn things that will enrich their life," she said. "They will be better people for doing it."

Music in Catholic Schools touches as many as 450 students in 28 Catholic schools and five Lutheran schools in Omaha.

Most students meet twice a week with a band teacher and are required to practice and attend a number of performances during the year. They participate in a large concert twice a year and are invited to play in the pep band at Creighton Prep football games and V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School basketball games.

Students try out for the Honor Band, which meets once a week for nine to 10 weeks and performs at different schools. On Feb. 1, they will play with the Nebraska Wind Symphony.

"It's neat for our kids to see these adults that just like to play, they just want to have fun playing," Lund said. "And it's also neat for adults to see these kids that are just learning, that haven't played that long, to see their excitement and enthusiasm."

Band students are also invited to participate in solo and group contests, a jazz clinic and a band clinic with a special conductor.

This year's band clinic will be April 17, with a concert at 8 p.m. in the Strauss Recital Hall on the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus. The guest conductor will be SMSGT Larry MacTaggart from the Washington, D.C. Air Force Band. In honor of the 25th anniversary of Music in Catholic Schools, he is writing a new piece for the honor band that will be premiered at the concert.

Budget challenges

Though going strong for 25 years, the program's biggest challenge right now is funding, Lund said, noting that it costs about $475 per student to be in band each year.

Because the program is parent-paid, many students can't be in band because they can't afford it. That shouldn't be the case, she said.

"Any student in a parochial school that has the desire to play a musical instrument, to be in band, should be able to do so regardless of their finances," Lund said.

To help off-set costs, Music in Catholic Schools tries to provide tuition assistance to those who request it, and offers a reduced tuition at schools that are part of the "enterprise zone" or already receive federal money. The program also has a small endowment.

Most of the money that the program receives, however, goes to pay the one part-time and three full-time teachers, which means there is less money to update materials. For instance, no new music has been purchased in the last two years.

Students do hold fund-raisers to help pay for things, Lund said, but additional outside funding is needed.

"We want to make the opportunity equitable for all parochial schools," she said. "If there's an interest, we want to provide band to the kids."

Fun to play music

Jeff Banchor, an eighth-grader at St. Joan of Arc School in Omaha, has been playing the trombone for three years.

He was one of five students from Music in Catholic Schools to participate in the Eighth Grade All-State Band held at the University of Nebraska in Kearney on Jan. 17. The other students who made the select group were: Chris Marble, Emily Lowndes and Jamie Jones of St. Stephen the Martyr, and Mike Prucha of Mt. Calvary Lutheran School.

Banchor said he's come a long way since he first picked up a trombone.

"The first time I played trombone," he said, "I accidentally hit my mom in the head with it."

The 13-year-old now practices about two to three hours a week at home, in addition to his practice times at school.

"It's a really fun thing to do and you get to meet lots of people," Banchor said. "Honor Band goes on tour twice a year and that's always fun, and we play really cool music."

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