Edison rebuilds music program

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Three years ago, after years of budget cuts and declining resources, Edison High School had no band. In the 2008-2009 school year–a year after the Minneapolis Public Schools named Carla Steinbach Edison’s principal–the school board “fresh started” the school, giving it more resources and giving Steinbach the authority to retool Edison’s staff. She had 80 jobs to fill; teachers could re-apply for their jobs if they wanted to stay at Edison. 


The new staff was a mix of former Edison teachers and teachers new to the school. Music teacher Beth Hulteng, who came to Edison from Ramsey International Fine Arts Center, a K-8 in South Minneapolis, took on the challenge of recreating a high school band.


“It was very appealing to come here and build a program,” Hulteng said. Hulteng’s start-up band performed a joint concert with the choir last school year, and also played at graduation. “We started with 25 students, many of them beginners.” This year, 40 students signed up for band. She placed them either in the beginner ensemble or concert band.


“We’ll have more than that in second semester,” Hulteng said. “I’m also trying to build a strings program. I’m hoping next year that we’ll have an orchestra. I’ve added an after-school strings club.”


The concert band has two flutes, two violins, one oboe, three clarinets, two saxophones, two trumpets, three trombones, four percussion instruments and one cello. Beginner’s band has two clarinets, four violins, two trumpets, two percussion, two saxophones and one string bass. “Last year, we only had two kids in beginning band,” she said.


The bands meet during school hours as a regular class, and there are other music offerings as well. For instance, 30 students are taking piano classes—there are two sections, piano and keyboards–and an electronic music lab. Another music teacher, Stacey Kilton, teaches two guitar classes. After school, in addition to the strings club, a 15-member drum line also meets for rehearsals. The drum line will perform at Edison’s Dec. 1 open house. A rock and roll band club, led by Kilton and teacher Eric Fleming, has half a dozen students, most of whom play guitar.


Although a few students have their own instruments, the norm is for the district to provide them. Many people, often alums, donate instruments and music to the district, Hulteng said. Students can take them home (if the instrument is not too large, like drums or the string bass) and are responsible for them. They turn them in at the end of the year.


“The students sign contracts, agreeing to take care of the instruments,” Hulteng said.


The school owns three upright pianos and has more than 20 keyboards, which have headphones and hook up to computers. “You need the headphones when you’ve got 27 kids in one class,” Hulteng said. “They use Garage Band software; the computer processes the sound. Everyone has a preference: some people like to create their own drumbeats or learn a song and play along with it. Some of them do some recording. The kids who do that generally have some experience with Garage Band.” Students who come to Edison from Sheridan elementary (a performing arts magnet) or Northeast Middle School usually have music experience, she added.


“A lot of the immigrants don’t have any experience playing instruments. That’s what so nice about the beginner’s band. They learn that it’s not too late when they get to high school to take up an instrument. Some of them know what instruments they’d like to try. Others don’t know what the options are. I introduce them to the families—brass, woodwinds, strings, percussion. They tend to gravitate toward things. They test some mouthpieces. Maybe they’ll find out that it’s hard for them to get a sound out of a trumpet or a flute, for instance, and they might choose something else.”


The concert band played at a pep fest in October, and will perform two concerts, in January and April. They will also play at graduation. “They will also present a music montage on Dec. 10 during conferences so that there is a little entertainment,” Hulteng said.


Student Janis Chang, a senior, comes into the band room during her lunch period to play the piano. She plays violin in the concert band. “I just want to play music,” she said. “I had no idea how to play, but now I’m okay at reading notes. Ms. Hulteng is teaching me really well.”


Hulteng said that Chang “dove right in. She is fearless with instruments, and open to trying anything.”


Classes last 45 minutes, and after-school clubs last an hour and a half. “Kids come in here every day in fourth hour lunch (Hulteng’s free period) to play the instruments. The music Hulteng uses for the bands “is all teaching material at this point. The function is to make this a top notch music program. I try to mix it up a little bit. There is pep band music, and we are starting jazz and improve. We have 20th Century music and of course, the ever-popular marches.” The concert band music is intermediate level. Students in both bands range from freshmen to seniors.


“This is fertile ground and the administration is very supportive of the arts,” Hulteng said. “I’m hoping that our future will include a couple of bands and a string orchestra. The drum line is taking off, and they will be marching at football games. I’m planning for them to play at a couple of basketball games, too. The keyboard program is growing as well. It’s a nice feeder into band.


“I’m excited to be here because of the potential,” Hulteng added. “High school students can do a lot, if they’re motivated.”