Students find forte in Community Band

Community Band Cadets twirl ribbons at the Community Band Spring Concert in May.

One of Page Unified School District’s most widely loved programs is its Community Band. The Community Band is funded and operated by the school district, and most of its members are students from the school district, but anyone from outside the district is also welcome to join if they’d like.

And many have. The Community Band is true to its name, with kids as young as 5 and parents of all ages shaking their tambourines, plucking guitar strings, banging drums and trumpeting the brass.

The Community Band held a concert in May, and the performance given that night was a testament to the band’s popularity, diversity and philosophy of inclusion. The concert included performances from the Page Youth Band, Page Community Cadet Band, the district’s Filipino teachers, singers from the PHS Navajo Language/Unity Club, and students from Manson Mesa High School, Sage and Sand Virtual Academy.

The Community Band was started by Spencer Kimball, a music teacher at Manson Mesa High School and at Sage and Sand Virtual Academy. The idea for the Community Band grew from a discussion between Kimball and then-superintendent Rob Varner in 2019. Varner placed Kimball in charge of the Cultural Arts Building (CAB) and tasked him with finding more ways to utilize the CAB and encourage the outside community to become more involved with the school district.

For Kimball – a life-long music lover and career music teacher – creating a band open to everyone seemed like a great fit for his talents.

Kimball has worked as a music educator for 35 years. He’s been with Page Unified School District for seven years. He started as the music teacher at Desert View, a position he held for four years.

Kimball has always had a passion for music, but his passion for teaching music developed while doing his student teaching.

“I had a great student teaching experience,” Kimball said. “I think it was really critical to the way I teach music now, and the way I approach music education.”

Kimball did this student teaching under the tutelage of Robert Campbell at South Davis Junior High. “Throughout his career he was recognized as one of the best music teachers in the state,” said Kimball.

The music program at South Davis Junior High was extremely popular, with as many as 50 students in each class.

“His classrooms were very disciplined and structured,” Kimball remembers. “He used material-based learning methods. The students would progress to the level laid out in the band books, which is a pretty rapid pace. By the time his kids finished ninth grade, they were really set them up nicely for high school. I have used his approach in many of the schools I’ve worked at, but they’ve all been schools with smaller class sizes.”

As Kimball moved forward with the Community Band, he wanted it to be less formal and more inclusive. It would still be structured, it would still be taken seriously, but anyone interested in joining wouldn’t need to tryout to be included in the band; they just had to have a personal commitment to attend practices and improve.

“I wanted to reach out to the larger community,” Kimball said. “I found there are a lot of people out there who are taxpayers, who weren’t directly involved with the school district. A lot of them liked the idea that they could come to the school and be involved.”

But Kimball encountered a big hurdle soon after the Community Band held its first practice.

He arranged a practice space, got together some instruments and, in February 2020, the Community Band got together and held its first practice. A month later, PUSD closed its schools because of COVID. When school resumed after spring break, Kimball moved the band practices to Zoom.

“We were trying to figure it out as we went along,” Kimball recalls. “Practicing music over Zoom is the hardest way to do it.  It’s so much different than doing it in person. It was a tough learning curve.”

When practices moved to Zoom, the band had only been together for a month, and no one had yet devoted much to the group. Kimball expected the members to drop out and the newly formed band to dissolve. But, much to Kimball’s surprise, very few members left.

“I think they just really liked being part of something,” Kimball said. “The first months the band was practicing together over Zoom became more about building relationships with the students, and that turned out to be very essential to the eventual success of the program.” 

One of those band members who didn’t want to quit was Tyler Adams. 

“My son absolutely loved it, and still loves it!” said his mother, Michelle Adams.

Tyler joined the community band when it first formed and stuck with it throughout the pandemic. His involvement with the band has been very beneficial to his well-being, Michelle said.

“It became even important during the pandemic,” she said.

“Without it, I don’t know what he would have done. Being able to attend band practice was a nice break during the week. Everybody was so bored and stressed out. It gave us a great outlet. My son is a little introverted, and he’s not really into team sports, but this taught him to work as a team.”

When the 2021-22 school year began, the Community Band was able to meet and practice in person. The band met once or twice a week outside of Manson Mesa High School after school. The band consisted mostly of students from Manson Mesa and Sage and Sand Virtual Academy, but also included some Page kids who were homeschooled. As the year progressed, Kimball had parents and young kids join the band.

When the band began meeting in person, Kimball added a Cadet Band to the program, composed of kindergarten and first-grade kids. Students in the Cadet Band learn the fundamentals of movement and rhythm.

“Music is a developmental,” Kimball said. “Our goal, at that age, is to get them to understand the beat, step on the beat, and some simple pitch exercises. That helps builds a solid music base they can grow on later.”

One of Kimball’s Cadet students is Emmett Stanfield, who just turned 6.

“He has a lot of fun there,” said Emmett’s mom, Kendall Neisess.

“He gets to make noise and move his body, which is fun for him. When they did their performance in May that was his first time being on a big stage and he really liked that.

“I don’t think the kids that age understand that they’re learning music. They think they’re just playing a game, but at the same time they’re being exposed to music principles and music structure. It helps them grasp notes and rhythm and other building blocks of music. One of the things I like best about it is that he associates music with fun, and I think that’s important.”

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