2017-11-23 / Life in Leelanau

Band is Back

Music teacher, eight Northport students revive program after lengthy hiatus
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


KEELEY TWOCROW, Ava Rice and Ava Labbe make up part of the horn section in Northport School’s new band. Here they are shown with ‘enthusiastic band supporter’ Don Wilcox, who directs the Northport Community Band. KEELEY TWOCROW, Ava Rice and Ava Labbe make up part of the horn section in Northport School’s new band. Here they are shown with ‘enthusiastic band supporter’ Don Wilcox, who directs the Northport Community Band. Northport sixth-grader Ava Rice picked up a tenor saxophone for the first time about two weeks ago.

And she’s already getting the hang of it.

“At first it was hard, but toward the end of last week it started getting a little easier,” Rice said.

Rice, 11, is one of eight novice musicians in Northport Public School’s brand new middle school band, started by Northport music teacher and band director Carrie Wadas.

Wadas was hired in October and one of the first things she did was start a band program for middle and high school students.

The middle school band has a good start, though the high school band is not yet up and running, Wadas said. Hopefully that will evolve as middleschoolers move up to high school, she said.


DON WILCOX, director of the Northport Community Band, gives Northport School band student Keeley TwoCrow some personalized instruction while music teacher Carrie Wadas looks on. DON WILCOX, director of the Northport Community Band, gives Northport School band student Keeley TwoCrow some personalized instruction while music teacher Carrie Wadas looks on. Rice said sixth grade was the perfect time to join the band.

“It was something new that I could start just coming out of elementary school,” she said.

Seventh-grader Devin John is learning to play the trombone. It is his first experience with an instrument.

“I wanted to see what band was like,” John said. “It’s fun.”

Band class meets daily, with instruments including two tenor saxophones, one alto sax, two cornets and one trombone. There are also two percussionists in the band.

“We have a very small beginning band, but that’s very beneficial for the students who are participating,” Wadas said.

Some of those benefits include lots of individualized attention for the students, all of whom picked up their instruments for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

Plus, there are lots of professional musicians in the community, Wadas said, many of whom are involved in the Northport Community Band. Many of them have been going to the school to offer the students some one-on-one instruction.

“We just have a wealth of opportunities at our fingertips with professionals in the community,” Wadas said. “They are very eager to step in and help our own students get the best start possible.”

One of those musicians is Don Wilcox, who directs the community band. Wilcox taught music for 48 years, the last 35 as director of bands at West Virginia University.

“I spent about half a century hanging out with band kids and I enjoy it,” Wilcox said, adding that most schools have music programs and all schools should have them.

Middle school kids love music and most have a collection of it on their phones, he said.

“A lot of them would like an outlet to play guitar, drums, the saxophone,” he said. “So the ones that want to do that should have an outlet for it.”

Wilcox says he also has a vested interest in having a school band in Northport, as it will provide future members for the Northport Community Band.

Wadas said the school band’s first performance will be at a spring concert, though there may be one or two performances over the upcoming holidays with the fledgling band playing with the community band.

John said he doesn’t want to play in front of an audience just yet, but he’s confident he’ll be ready by spring.

The school does not yet have a choir, but Wadas said middle school students will sing at the Holiday Choral Concert being held at 7 p.m. Dec. 20 in the school auditorium.

This is the first time Northport School has had a band program in many years.

Superintendent and Northport graduate

Neil Wetherbee played the alto saxophone from fifth grade through high school. That was back in the mid- 90s, when the school had a large and thriving band program. That program dwindled and was eventually eliminated.

Wetherbee is glad it’s back.

“We’re really trying to find opportunities to help our students,” Wetherbee said. “We’re looking at the whole student, whether it’s music or art or field trips or other ways to help the student grow as an individual.

“I think that being able to read music and understand some of the concepts of music makes you a better student and lets you participate in activities throughout your whole life — and it’s fun.”

Wadas and her husband moved to Northport about a year and 1/2 ago. An oboist, she immediately signed up to play in the community band.

Wadas has a degree in music education from Indiana University School of Music. She taught in Indianapolis for a short period of time before she started having children.

She then taught private music lessons and later was very involved in her children’s school music programs, as all four of her kids were in band.

“They still use that skill on a daily basis to enhance their lives,” Wadas said. “And that’s what I hope for these kids.”

Playing a musical instrument is also good for brain development, with several studies showing that it can actually increase a person’s IQ.

Wadas said the act of playing teaches your brain to fire in different ways.

It is also a great outlet for students to express themselves, especially those who may find it hard to do so in words, she said.

“Music is a very important part of any educational experience,” she said. “It just completes a well-rounded education. The students will benefit greatly from it.”

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