Glenfield Middle School Spring Concert
Thursday, May 31, 7 p.m.
Glenfield Middle School, 25 Maple Ave.
Tickets: online at gms.booktix.com/
By GWEN OREL
Jonathan Ward plays every instrument in the orchestra.
Many of the student musicians at Glenfield Middle School first learned their instruments from Ward, the school’s instrumental music director.
He teaches an introduction class to sixth graders.
The kids also learn from books. But how do you learn an embouchure for a flute or a hand position for a violin from a book? You can’t.
But before you suspect that the class at Glenfield is an elaborate scam like Harold Hill’s in “The Music Man,” with his “think system” that teaches the children their instruments through the power of thought, remember: Ward plays every instrument in the orchestra.
“And I try to play as well as my eighth-grade students,” he said, after the students emptied the band room when the bell rang this past Friday. “I do that because I have to demonstrate.”
Ward explained that he’s really a drummer, and wouldn’t “gig out” on the saxophone.
He has been teaching at Glenfield for 16 years, and went there too. “I sat right there,” he said with a laugh, pointing at a chair. He had a model in a teacher who also played every instrument, John Best, he said.
“He could hop on the piano, and then he played the guitar, and then he would pick up a saxophone and then he would pick up a violin and he was really comfortable on all of them. I remember thinking, that’s just so amazing,” said Ward.
In the introduction class, sixth graders focus on one instrument for an entire year. Should they choose to continue, they can join the orchestra and band in seventh and eighth grade.
On Friday, the orchestra was rehearsing for its upcoming Spring concert. A Beatles medley included “Eleanor Rigby” and Hey Jude,” while Ward went from section to section demonstrating “The Sabre Dance.”
There are about 80 people in the orchestra, 40 in the jazz band and 67 in the chorus.
JOINING A COMMUNITY
When you ask middle school orchestra musicians how much they practice, they say once a week.
But that’s not counting their daily rehearsals for jazz band and orchestra, which take place before school and at the end of the day.
Seventh-grader Juniper Shelley picked up the flute in Ward’s class last year. She already played piano, so she knew how to read music. Playing flute allows her to play with others, unlike piano.
“I love the moment when it’s silent, just before all the noise begins,” she said. “When it works, it works really well. It feels so great to have it all be right. You’re on stage and you have all your friends watching you.”
“I think the best thing about playing in a group, especially in school, is it’s a community,” said Aidan Dowell, an eighth-grade trumpeter. Like Shelley, he learned his instrument at Glenfield. “There are several points when we’re playing when
it’s almost like you get goosebumps. It’s a physical feeling.”And, he said, “You’re creating something. You’re a part of something greater.”
Jonathan Crawford, also an eighth-grader, has been playing alto saxophone for five and a
half years, and came to Glenfield already proficient in the instrument.
“It feels really, really good to perform onstage, because you’re performing for your teachers, and friends and family,” Crawford said adding that his great-great-grandfather also played the saxophone.
Leaving Glenfield will mean changes to their music. Crawford will play saxophone in the
Montclair High School marching band and concert band. Dowell explained that as a freshman he can only take one elective at Montclair High School, and his schedule didn’t work out, so next year he is taking personal finance and web design. But he will play outside of school.
All three students, who are section leaders in the orchestra, sing in the chorus, so never really leave the stage.
MORE THAN MUSIC
Gayle Fuentes, the choral director at Glenfield, is in her first year. Her biggest challenge, she said with a laugh, is getting the students to stop talking.
“What amazed me coming into the school is that they all want to sing, and that they’re willing to learn,” she said.
Fuentes meets with the chorus every three days, unlike Ward, who meets his groups every
day. The schedule at Glenfield, an arts magnet school, works well, Ward said. Seeing the orchestra every day is unheard of in most schools, and the kids in the introduction class have an hour and a half at a time
Fuentes said her hope is the students enjoy singing and will keep doing it later on in life. She programs with music the kids can connect to, and wants to involve more students.
“Singing is a vulnerable thing. There are a lot out there who think singing and choir is a specific thing… and you can do a lot with the voice. So, I’m trying to spread that,” she said.
Over the course of his time at Glenfield, Ward has sent many kids to Jazz House Kids and School of Rock, and written many recommendations to college and conservatories. But like Fuentes, he sees music as more than skill. “What we’re really working with is future lawyers, and future doctors, and future parents. What you’re trying to instill in them is not so much music. Music is very nice and it’s very useful,” he said. “But what I think I’m teaching here is teamwork.”