Shakopee Public Schools celebrated “Music in our Schools” month throughout March, highlighted by students in all grades participating in concerts and music events.
Students showcased their talents through performances in a variety of musical extracurriculars, including choir, band and musical productions.
HIGH SCHOOL CONCERTS
The choir and band curriculum schedules at Shakopee High School happen to coincide with Music in our Schools month.
The high school has four curricular bands: ninth-grade, symphonic, concert and wind ensemble. Band students performed their Mid-Winter Concerts in early March, with the symphonic and concert bands performing on March 7 and the ninth-grade and wind ensemble bands performing days later on March 10.
The sixth-grade band students also joined the ninth-grade and wind ensemble bands for the Shakopee Band Festival held last Saturday.
Andy Brown, the district’s arts and activities director, said having the younger kids perform with the older ones shows the promising future of the band program to students and their families.
“We’re covering a number of the levels throughout the district. It gets a lot of people to sort of see the future and what it looks like for their kids staying in band and continuing to grow musically,” he said.
The high school’s choir program also divided into two concerts on March 14. These concerts featured the high school’s curricular choir groups: ninth-grade, una voce, bel canto, Saber and concert.
Also performing was the New York City tour choir, a group of seniors traveling to New York City over spring break to perform at Carnegie Hall. The choir showcased three of the five songs they will perform at Carnegie Hall.
Brown said it’s been great to have fewer logistical concerns this year with putting together concerts. He said many concerts over the last two years had to be run in “unusual ways,” keeping in mind location and how students are arranged during performances.
The pandemic has also affected participation numbers in high school band and choir.
“Unfortunately, it is the first time ever I haven’t included an item along the lines of ‘the Shakopee Band program once again has grown even larger than ever before.’ The pandemic has been extremely hard on music programs across the country, and Shakopee is no exception,” high school director of bands Eric Christenson wrote in this year’s band handbook.
The programs are looking to build numbers back up, Brown said, but he expects this to take a few years.
MIDDLE SCHOOL CONCERTS
In addition to high school programs, middle schools are also participating in the music-centered month.
Students at both West Middle School and East Middle School performed their musical production of “Cinderella” from March 4-6. Preparing for the musical was a months-long process beginning in December.
“The kids always perform at such a high caliber of talent,” said Karen Van Sickle, East Middle School choir director and middle school musical co-director. “It amazes me what these kids are capable of doing. We have very high expectations for them, and they always rise to the occasion.”
Ahead of the sixth grade band performing in the Shakopee Band Festival, seventh and eighth graders at both middle schools held their own concerts. East Middle School band students had their concert March 21, with West Middle School band students performing the following evening.
For choir classes, Van Sickle said her students have been preparing this month for upcoming concert events.
Van Sickle’s select choir, consisting of sixth- through eighth-graders, will be partnering with the West Middle School’s Saber Singers select choir in April to perform Broadway songs for the “Night on Broadway” concert.
Additionally, Van Sickle’s students are already gearing up for their spring concert held in May. She added that this year’s concert is unique because beyond showcasing regular choral works, some seventh- and eighth-graders will get to perform entire songs by themselves.
Having music provided as an outlet has been great for the middle school students in choir and band, Van Sickle said.
“Middle school is such a weird, quirky age. Kids are trying to find themselves and discover who they are and what they really enjoy … it’s such an important outlet for them and kind of a break in their day,” she said.
While numbers have also decreased a bit at the middle school, the two schools combined still have around 400 students participating in choir. Concerts have played a large part in retaining members, as well as bringing in new ones.
Van Sickle said band and choir members’ siblings and friends sometimes gain interest in joining the music programs through word of mouth and after attending concerts and performances.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CONCERTS
Music in our Schools month has also reached the elementary schools, with young students performing in their own concerts.
Students in each grade level at Sweeney Elementary work on concerts in their second semester, when they get to showcase several songs they’ve worked on throughout the year. The first set of concerts kicked off on March 24, with first graders and fourth graders performing at the school.
“For this group of elementary schoolers, they haven’t been able to perform for a live audience the past two years,” Sweeney Elementary music teacher Kelsey Erickson said. “This is their opportunity to perform, and it’s really been something special.”
Erickson held a reflection the following Tuesday with her students who performed in the concerts. Students wrote about their favorite parts of the concert and general takeaways from the evening.
“When I was singing, I felt excited,” Sweeney Elementary fourth grader Lexi Nemo said. “I have not had a music concert since 2019, and it felt exciting to be back.”
“During our concert I felt nervous, excited, happy and confident all at the same time! I thought we sounded good. We all stood high and proud, and I think this concert was the one we succeeded in the most so far,” fourth grader Harper Burley said.
Erickson said every month feels like Music in our Schools month when teaching her students. Having elementary students, she said she recognizes the significance of introducing music and music-based activities to young kids.
She added that it’s been rewarding to catch up with former students at concerts and other events to hear about their current musical hobbies. At the most recent concert, she said some approached her to talk about now participating in programs like choir, band and the “Cinderella” musical production.
“I think we as elementary music teachers have a really unique opportunity to start music off on a positive note and really get them hooked when they’re little,” she said. “It’s reassuring to know they did take something positive away out of their time here at Sweeney and in their music classes in particular.”