When a group of Purdue University Fort Wayne music education majors started working with middle school band participants from Fort Wayne Community Schools in January, nobody knew exactly how it would turn out. On May 2, both sides get to show how much they have grown during a free concert at 7 p.m. in Walb Student Union’s International Ballroom.
Simply put, the Fusion Band rocks!
Made possible through an Amplify Art grant and under the guidance of John Egger, the School of Music’s director of music education, the project lets 16 PFW music education students teach 50 middle school band members from across the district. During the spring semester, the group gathered for two hours every Tuesday evening for 12 weeks at Memorial Park Middle School. Everyone benefitted.
“Our undergraduate students are not always given the opportunity to be in front of K–12 students,” said Egger, who was assisted by Casey Collins, clinical assistant professor of music, and Molly Papier, director of the Community Arts Academy. “This is the one way we have created experiences for these students that allow them to put what they have learned in their education courses into practice.”
The PFW students said the practices reinforced their career choices. They gave individual, small ensemble, and group attention, along with playing alongside their section of students.
“It’s just getting to do what I’m really passionate about and putting it into practice to get that real-life experience,” said saxophone player and PFW junior Lizi Brumbaugh. “It’s nice to sit in the ensemble because you get to see what everybody else is struggling with, and that helps me later when I’m conducting.”
Dinner was provided with each session, and then PFW students took charge of up to eight students in their instrument sections where they got to know the middle schoolers better. The younger players appreciated the specialized instruction, and the older players loved the youngsters’ energy and passion.
“As soon as they walk in the door, you are ready to go,” said sophomore Alden Longsworth, who plays trumpet.
The relationships kept improving as both sides became more comfortable. Sometimes that meant the PFW students putting themselves into the mindsets of seventh or eighth graders, cracking jokes to keep the rehearsals fresh. The time also gave PFW students opportunities to try new teaching techniques.
“Once we got to know each other better and got more comfortable working together, it became easier and more enjoyable for everybody,” sophomore trombone player Ethan Musselman said. “I know they wouldn’t keep coming back if they didn’t enjoy it.”
There were also opportunities for the PFW students to answer questions about career choices, techniques, and potential academic majors. As Egger said, suppose one of the middle school students asked about becoming a performance trombone major. From personal experience, the PFW students could tell them how that could happen and what it would entail.
An emphasis and part of the fun was teaching the middle school students how to put life into their performance with synchronized movement. The last thing the conductors wanted was for the students to sit there or go through the motions. Instead, a common message was that it’s OK to be expressive and enjoy yourself.
What came through every night was the simple joy of music.
“The payoff for me was seeing them have fun and enjoy being here,” said senior trombone player Ethan Hacker. “That is huge to me. We do this music-making thing because it’s entertaining and we enjoy doing it, but the reason I fell in love with it in the first place is because of the connections I made with people and the fun times I had doing it. Seeing them experience the same things I did is priceless.”
Egger said there are preliminary ideas about continuing the program with FWCS next year and possibly expanding to include middle school band performers from other districts.
“What really inspires me is when I see students learning and able to explore teaching styles in a safe environment,” Egger said. “They are starting to develop into future teachers. It’s well worth it to see the excitement, and the love of music being made makes all the difference.”