A Visit to Berkeley High’s Orchestra Rehearsal

Visiting Karen Wells and Mary Dougherty’s Berkeley High orchestra rehearsal, we were pleased to observe two types of Schools Fund grants in action. The first, a contrabass clarinet, was the result of a directed gift from Another Planet Entertainment. The second was a Classroom Grant for Professional Music Mentors.

Another Planet Entertainment’s Annual Gift to the Music Fund

IMG_2279Independent concert promoter, Another Planet Entertainment generously donates $10,000 a year to the Schools Fund to support the BUSD music program. We then collaborate with Karen Wells to find the best use for this gift. This year Ms. Wells happily purchased both a contrabass clarinet and a euphonium to help round out the bass end of the orchestra and band programs.

Though the euphonium has not yet arrived, watching a student play the contrabass clarinet—an instrument taller than he is—was a treat. When asked how things are going with his new instrument, the student wearily replied, “It’s definitely getting better.” He was happy to try something new, but moving air from the top to the bottom of such a large instrument is definitely exhausting!

Professional Music Mentor Classroom Grant

IMG_2309Wells and Dougherty have received a Classroom Grant for Professional Music Mentors for 18 years. This year we were pleased to use funds for the grant from a generous bequest from the Florence Kemper Oakes Music Fund.

As Ms. Wells explained in her grant application, “The number of students involved in band and orchestra continues to grow by at least 10 students a year… As the Band and Orchestra grows it has become imperative to earmark more funds towards extra coaching. It is necessary for students to be supported in their music learning with detailed training on their instrument from experts who play that same instrument. Music students whose parents pay for private lessons benefit from this type of instruction. Equity demands that we nurture all our music students by giving them access to this type of pedagogy.”

IMG_2273When I visited, music mentor Emily was tucked into the flute section, playing along with John Mackey’s “The Ringmaster’s March.” She offered suggestions to the group when prompted, and later she rehearsed a smaller group to give more focused attention. Emily provides individual attention to the flute section, and other coaches work within their own instrument groups. This personalized work is invaluable to the strength of an orchestra.

During a brief chat, Emily mentioned that she is always very impressed with the caliber of Berkeley High musicians. “They are lucky to have such a great program, and they all have a lot of fun together too!”

The quality of the music program was especially apparent during discussions between run-throughs. This was truly a collaborative and open process. Students were asked to help set a tempo, debating whether it was better to push themselves to go as fast as they could or set a tempo in which they could actually play all the notes. They offered each other practice suggestions. They shared when they thought things were working and constructively pointed out where things were not. With that, one saxophone player exclaimed, “Alright! Let’s play!”