Soroco’s all-ages Jazz Band explodes in popularity
April 12, 2018
OAK CREEK — Past the steady dribbling of basketballs in the gymnasium, the vigorous notes of trumpets and saxophones escape into the hallways of Soroco High School every Monday evening.
It's Jazz Band practice, and just in the past year, teacher Kelli Turnipseed's group doubled in size from about 15 students to 30.
She attributes this year's explosion in popularity to other students watching the band "rocking on stage" during performances.
"Jazz is new to almost every kid," she said of the genre. "They think it's just elevator music — which jazz is not. I tell them, jazz is all the stuff I won't let you play in concert band."
And they go far beyond jazz — incorporating swing, funk, rock, dixieland, latin and disco.
"You get to explore more into music, and don't just play what's on paper," said ninth-grader Liam Yaconiello, an alto sax player."You get be more creative, and play your own way. You're not bound to the page."
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Kaedynce Kaleikini, also a ninth-grader and a trumpet player, said she found the band very inviting. She had been playing her instrument for years, but joined after seeing the jazz band perform.
"You get to learn a lot and still have a lot of fun," she said.
In addition to the young musicians spanning from sixth to 12th grade, several older community members join in on the practices and performances after work. For the first time Monday, a woman in a black cowboy hat sat in front of the percussionist with her bass guitar — filling a much needed hole in the band.
There's a substitute teacher who sometimes joins on sax, a history teacher's husband who plays drums and a science teacher who occasionally plays bass.
"It's open to anyone whose willing to spend the time, and put in the work and effort it takes to become an ensemble," Turnipseed said.
There's John Anarella, who plays guitar while his son plays trumpet and his daughter clarinet. Anarella's oldest son played piano before graduating last year.
"To get to come and play with my children on stage," Anarella said, on what he enjoys the most, "Are you kidding me?"
Of his musical brood, Anarella said living 10 miles away from school gave them much opportunity for music appreciation drives. However, "There came a time when I lost control of the radio."
Carmen Anarella, the youngest, said she "enjoys working with kids who have more experience and can teach me new things," as well as getting to play music unlike anything they play in the classroom setting.
With a variety of ages and skill levels, "the older kids mentor the younger kids, and then the younger kids become the older kids," Turnipseed said. "One of my favorite parts of jazz band is watching the kids of all levels not only be musical together, but be nice to each other. It's a family — there's no seniors telling the younger kids what to do."
With some beginners and some playing at a super-advanced level, "I have to be creative in who can play what," she said. "We work together to find a happy medium and make good music."
Another favorite thing about Jazz Band? The free food, a number of the students said. Each week a different set of parent volunteers brings dinner.
Turnipseed also leads four other bands comprising 80 students in the classroom, teaches concert band and choir, as well as theater and percussion. The Jazz Band started as a class about 15 years ago with just three students, she said. About 8 years ago it moved to an extracurricular after-school activity. Because it's not a graded class, "I have to make it fun and make them want to show up."
It can require some juggling, as most of the kids are involved in multiple other activities and sports. Many of her kids who are in FFA didn't make last Monday, just returning from a field trip. She didn't have most of her middle school students because they were weary after spending the day testing — though Turnipseed saw that was all the more reason to make it to practice and release some tension.
"I have to be willing to share the kids," she said. Missing her trombone players, Turnipseed filled in on the instrument she attributes to paying for her college tuition
"It never gets boring," Turnipseed said.
And the lessons go far beyond music, she said, "Learning to play music makes you a better human being. "
The lessons transcend just music, including discipline, reliability, patience, compassion and courage.
"There are so many life skills kids gain by being part of an ensemble that you just can't do in any other setting," Turnipseed said.
Spencer Ashley, a ninth-grader and trumpet player, said he likes the experimental and improvisational aspect of jazz, as well as "exploring a whole new genre of music and developing more skills." Ashley also noted that playing a solo in front of a big crowd was not only fun, but really helped him to build confidence.
On Monday, Turnipseed knew her lesson plan would be not as fun as they read the music for three new songs to be played at their May concert.
"It's all sight reading today," she told them, expecting plenty of mistakes.
First, she handed out their individual parts for Weather Report's "Birdland."
Then they listened. The kids tapped their feet and nodded their heads as they diligently read along on their music sheets.
Next they gave the new song a try.
"That wasn't terrible," Turnipseed said.
And it wasn't — at all.