JAY — The Spruce Mountain Middle School music program has exciting things happening this year.
Instructor Dianne Fenlason said she received a $2,500 grant from the Oak Grove School Foundation, which was formed following the sale of Oak Grove-Coburn, a high school in central Maine.
With those grant moneys, a new public address system was purchased. It will be used for the annual Rock of Ages program and other events where a sound system is needed.
“The goal is for any student to learn how to use the equipment for any purpose. It can be career inspiring. Some students may not want to be on stage but have a hand in production. The system may be used for board meetings, PTA meetings, whatever.
“We had always hired equipment for the Rock of Ages program. It was time to make the move to be self reliant,” she said.
The second grant is part of an expansion of the Maine Kids Rock Initiative, a program developed between the Maine Department of Education and national nonprofit Little Kids Rock. Ten schools were chosen for the pilot last year. SMMS is one of 22 new schools participating. Priority was given to schools who serve 50 percent or more free or reduced meal eligible students.
“The concept is to bolster low income areas, get more kids involved,” Fenlason said.
She purchased an electric guitar with amplifier and a bass guitar with amplifier. Once parents have been notified and busing arranged she plans to invite fourth and fifth grade students from the elementary school to her classroom to learn how to use those and other modern instruments.
“It’s a great concept to have all kids play together whether they can play a full chord or one note. I hope to have older students working with the younger ones. I can modify the performance aspect,” Fenlason said. “I see the development of kids from their first drum beat to performing onstage. It blows me away. Music gives them a platform where they can excel.”
In addition to providing modern band instruments, the initiative provides the teachers with resources and extensive, direct coaching in modern band. Next spring, new partner schools will be featured in a public performance at the second annual “Concert at the Capitol.”
“I’m super stoked. I have more equipment that works. I have kids in here every day at 2:10 p.m. They’re a great group, they love music. Now I can put instruments in their hands,” Fenlason said.
Although Little Kids Rock is new to Maine, Fenlason was using the concept 30 years ago while teaching music at Hall Dale. She used rock and pop tunes with her students because that is what they were interested in.
Fenlason said this is the 10 year anniversary of the Rock of Ages program which began in the Jay High School prior to consolidation. She will be inviting every student who ever participated to return for the Reunion Tour next spring.
“Some of those students are now performing as a career,” she said.
Fenlason said music is a form of nonverbal communication, its own community. She uses music as a vehicle to teach life skills.
“If you don’t show up for work, you don’t get paid. If you don’t show up for class, you get a zero grade. I expect them to be excellent, be leaders. The kids get it.
“I want them to be good young people. Kids will try to reach the bar you set for them. They can.
“I love my kids. I see them grow from fourth or sixth grade to high school. I can’t not develop relationships with them. With music and the arts, I can sometimes save kids.
“You can’t care about kids if you don’t know them. I’m blessed to have kids for such a long duration,” Fenlason said.