Maree Parr was very excited to receive a gold award for the Lincoln Primary School concert band as it was a very young and inexperienced band and she was not expecting such an honour. The band programme at Lincoln is aimed at Year 5 – 8 children who have no musical experience and was formed just two years ago. Prior to 2016, there were a couple of itinerants who taught predominantly drums and guitar at the school. Maree employs six tutors to teach at the school on Fridays, on the same day as all the school bands rehearse.
There are now 3 bands at Lincoln Primary School: A 14 piece jazz band, taken by Stephen Nichols, the 40 piece concert band that travelled to the NZCBA festival and a new 30 piece preparatory band which are both conducted by Maree Parr. These bands all rehearse before or after school for 8 weeks each term.
Lincoln students are fortunate to be able to be offer two french horn places each year to beginner students, taught by Antoni Dimitrov from the CSO, and unlike similar band programmes, students can enrol in bass guitar and percussion lessons.
The decision to attend the NZCBA festival began in December last year, when Lincoln Primary school heard they had been successful with an application to Air New Zealand in the Airpoints for schools award. The planning of the trip to the WEBO & NZCBA Festivals in Wellington began in earnest! It turned out to be vital to have Liz Cruse, a classroom teacher who happened to play sax who could liaise with the school, music tutors and the band families around the trip planning. With all the airfares covered by Air New Zealand, a schoolwide fundraising Easter raffle and a gold coin concert lowered the cost for each member.
When Maree set up this band programme, she was intent on all band members mastering accurate reading skills as well as good technique. The students were presented with a large volume of band music and weekly page incentives from their tutor book using the online Essential Elements website. This cool website allowed students to listen and practice with backing tracks. They recorded their homework and send recordings to their tutor online to be marked. Their band pieces were uploaded from Youtube with some pieces slowed down to enable them to play along instantly at home. Music reading mileage was encouraged by choosing band repertoire that children liked and was struck within their capability with harder pieces introduced later in the year. Four new band pieces were introduced each term to be rehearsed for a term then performed to the school at the end of the term. The concert band aimed to master at least 16-20 pieces each year as well as achieving at least 20 pages of their tutor book.
When the NZCBA festival loomed, this pedagogical emphasis changed to perfecting just 5 pieces across two terms and creating more balance & better intonation across the band. “We seriously started to hone our band performance skills by rehearsing fewer pieces and we tried to focus on each section producing a warmer tone and a wider range of dynamics. Our festival recording reveals that we have a long way to go to perfect these goals!”
The youngest members are 9 years old and the oldest are 13-year-olds in Year 8. Half the band have learned for just one year and the rest are in their third year on their instruments. Warming up the sound of raucous eager beginners who have limited breath and lip control is always a mission, especially when the average home practice in reality is not much more than a couple of nights a week. Primary school band members are busy kids and fitting in personal time on an instrument is a big ask.
Their festival repertoire included Black Forest Overture and Drums of Corona both middle school standards by Michael Sweeney, which they found challenging enough and grew to love. The changing time signatures, dynamic range and solo highlights kept them motivated. This band will remain Grade 2 -2.5 level at Lincoln primary. The band would not sustain harder pieces as the mature more proficient students move off to high school. Many students graduate into another combined community band that performs more difficult repertoire when they complete Essential Elements book 1.
Playing Grade 1.5 to 2.5 repertoire enables the new players to participate and the older players to play with some sense of control and mastery. The music is not complicated but it is as much a challenge for young players to play well as it is for more advanced players playing more complex pieces.
Maree’s concern was bringing an exposed and small section of trombones and french horns to a festival when they were not capable of pitching consistently yet. The band was also turning up with 4 bass guitars and that was asking for ridicule! Yes, there were comments about the balance of having them there but 4 kids on basses got the opportunity to perform and participate in a trip to remember for a lifetime, and in the end that’s what she felt was most important.
Thank you to NZCBA for providing the opportunity for Lincoln Primary school concert band to perform on the national stage.