OLD BRIDGE – After a two-year hiatus, nearly 400 students from elementary schools across Old Bridge returned to the stage for a live musical performance.
With 11 different schools represented, the district-wide concert featured five different ensembles performed by fourth and fifth graders.
On June 2, an audience of friends, family and faculty populated the auditorium at Old Bridge High School in support of the young musicians. With seats filled to capacity, the lively atmosphere of crowd chatter and clanging musical instruments served as reminder of what the pandemic took away from both students and teachers. However, it also served as an equal opportunity to showcase the undeniable talent and resiliency of those on stage.
The entirety of the district’s elementary instrumental music program is instructed by four music teachers.
Daniel Barnett, Colin Bell, Tony Good and Lauren Olivola each teach a variety of instruments that include the French Horn, trombone, violin, viola, guitar, piano, cello, flute, saxophone, percussion, trumpet, Baritone Horn, clarinet and drums.
Bell described the concert as a “big comeback” for everyone involved. He stated that the return to a live performance allowed students to experience the culmination of their hard work.
“The return of this concert means music is back and going strong. We had 377 students performing in this concert with a variety of ensemble types. The students are excited to play in front of a live audience. As teachers, it is rewarding to come together to provide a big event like this for our young musicians
“The motivation comes from our love of music. We are musicians, we love playing music, writing music, teaching music, talking about music … it’s our lives. Being able to share that love and experience and passing it on to the next generations is rewarding,” Bell said.
For the past two years, the music program faced the challenge of teaching instruments in a virtual environment. Although some concepts and subject matter could be explained virtually, the core component of face-to-face interactions could not be replaced by technology.
“Teaching an instrument is an in-person experience. No amount of technology can ever replace the experience of sitting next to your teacher, who is playing along with the student, and learning through the experience of playing together. When we were remote, we figured it out, and were able to start new students while keeping the existing ones moving forward,” Bell said.
He mentioned that the certainty of this year’s concert wasn’t guaranteed. However, he explained that each teacher made the necessary adjustments to ensure that their students wouldn’t fall behind on key concepts.
Bell stated that the subject of music is multifaceted in that it teaches students creativity, discipline, time management, responsibility and accountability. Although some consider music as a simple extracurricular activity, he says the subject is demanding and requires active participation for success.
Essentially, through the trial and error of learning an instrument, students also learn practical lessons that can be applied to other areas in life. Bell says that parents should consider enrolling their children into a music program because it’s not only educational, but beneficial in developing confidence and real-life social skills.
“You should enroll your child in their instrumental music program because there is no other experience like it. Along with all the artistic and academic benefits from above, we are doing our part in building up our students.
“The shy student has a place to express themselves in a comfortable environment … the advanced student can learn at their own pace and quickly start learning music of their own. A student who has challenges with other academic classes may find a place where they can excel and grow their confidence. That confidence carries over to other places.
“We put every student on their own track of progress, and tailor the curriculum to their individual needs. Socially, the band and orchestra students quickly bond and end up being an entire community of friends that carries through their journey of elementary school, middle school and high school. Often, those friendships last a lifetime,” Bell said.
With the concert successfully completed, Bell shared a collective statement on behalf of his fellow music teachers, stating “We want our students to know that we are very proud of them. Learning an instrument is challenging when you first start, and that challenge is the same for a nine-year-old beginner as it is for an adult beginner.
“Starting from scratch and playing a huge concert a few months later is a big deal. We are always reminding our students that being a musician is special and something to be proud of. There are so many ways of playing music, find your path and stick with it. We will always be there to help.”