CLASSROOM OF THE WEEK | With limited resources, Reid Middle School band achieves 'platinum' performance

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Jenn Smith — The Berkshire Eagle
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PITTSFIELD — When Reid Middle School band students walk into the auditorium, their worksheet-filled binders go down, their bandstands go up and suddenly the school day takes on a different tone.

"It gives kids an outlet," said band director Robert "Rob" Tatten. "Not all of these kids excel in academics, but they excel in this classroom."

Over the past three years, with Tatten in his director role, the Reid band program has grown from about 40 students, to some 70 participants in grades 6 through 8. Each grade has its own band section, which practices each day. Twice a week, students from all three grade levels get to rehearse. Each band student also gets an individual lesson.

Tatten, who also teaches at the elementary school level with Senta Brodeur, said he tries to coach students in the fourth and fifth grades to continue their studies with him at the middle school level. Each year, he also gets students who are brand new to instrumental music.

Nevertheless, parent Katherine Gundelfinger said, "Mr. Tatten is teaching new students difficult musical instruments and conducting them in [two or more] amazing concerts at Reid per year!"

Gundelfinger, whose son Hugo has been in band and jazz band groups at Reid for the past three years, nominated the bands for a "Classroom of the Week" distinction.

Seventh-grade clarinetist Frankie Guachione said that, at Tatten's encouraging, she decided to stay with band in middle school, though she wasn't sure she'd like it.

"Once I really started listening to the music and what he was saying, I liked it. He makes it fun and doesn't just focus on the group, but [on] helping kids individually too," she said.

Last weekend, the bands traveled to Springfield to participate in the Great East Music Festival New England and performed two what he called "complex" pieces: "Into the Storm" by Robert W. Smith and "Majestia," by James Swearingen. Tatten said the latter piece was recommended to him by eighth grader Madelyn Croce.

Their skills and intensity working together as an ensemble earned them a "Platinum" level recognition, the highest level a Reid band has ever been able to achieve.

"Some of us started to cry we were so happy," said Geoffrey Pensivy, a seventh-grade student who plays tuba in the concert band and trombone in Reid's after-school jazz band.

He attributed their success to the success of the band program. "We've got a lot more people and a lot more talent and skill this year," Pensivy said.

"I try to push them to see what they're capable of," said Tatten. He said his tactic is usually met with students saying to him, "I can't do this," but over the course of the year, he said, they grow out of it.

"I'm really proud of them. They're a really great group of kids," said the band teacher.

Eighth-grade student Cameron Martin, who plays tenor saxophone in the after-school jazz band and trumpet in the concert band, said music is key to him doing well in life.

"I've always had music in my life. It's a calming thing to me," said Martin. "We pick out songs that are so full of emotion and so challenging. [Tatten] picks out songs that are at the high school level, but we play them. The last few years, we've only reached gold, so to win platinum was really exciting for me."

The Reid bands, with what little they have in resources, have shown they're capable of doing a lot when the opportunities are presented to them.

Pensivy, for example, was willing to try the tuba to build a baritone instrument section. But Reid doesn't own that instrument. So, Tatten worked with the Pittsfield High School band department to arrange for the student to borrow one.

"We also try and do a car wash every year. We could use instruments, valve oil, reeds, anything," Pensivy said.

Martin said, "Music is a big thing for people here. I am one to say that for people who have difficult lives, music makes it better. There are studies that show that it's good for people and changes their mood. We could use any kind of help. There are a lot of kids who don't have instruments or don't have the money to buy them."

Tatten said his goal in the coming years is to better showcase his students' talent so people can better understand the outcomes of investment in music education.

"I'd like to get them involved with the community more," he said.

When he was a music student, Tatten said, he felt empowered by his own music teachers, which inspired him to become a music educator.

"It was really something I could see myself doing, and now I'm really glad I did," he said.


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