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The City Journals

Musical petting zoo

Mar 13, 2018 04:33PM ● By Jet Burnham

Ava Basinger has fun trying out various band instruments—like the tuba. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

The sound coming out of the French horn was more like an elephant than an actual note, but Ava Basinger got a cheer from her friends. 

“If they can just get a sound—even if it’s not a pretty sound—that’s good enough,” said Christine Christofferson, band and orchestra teacher at Sunset Ridge Middle. Christofferson provided a petting zoo of instruments for sixth-graders at Falcon Ridge, Fox Hollow, Mountain Shadows and Oakcrest elementary schools to introduce them to instruments they might want to play as they prepare to register for seventh-grade music classes.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for many students to play these instruments,” said Jenifer Olson from Summerhays Music, who provides rental instruments for students. “The whole purpose is to let them have a good musical experience and to have fun with the instruments.” 

Christofferson, who can play all the instruments in the band, performed the theme from “Indiana Jones” on each one to demonstrate their unique sounds and ranges. 

Most kids were familiar with the clarinet, the instrument Squidward (a character from “Sponge Bob Square Pants”) plays badly. 

“If you join band and play clarinet, you will be a better clarinet player than Squidward,” Christofferson promised. She said clarinet is one of the most popular instruments; she currently has 20 clarinet players in her beginning band. The cello and violin sections of her orchestra are also large. 

“I have a lot of cello players—a lot of time the inspiration is Piano Guys and the 2 Cellos,” she said. “I don’t get as many violas and basses or the obscure instruments that aren’t on the internet.” At the petting zoo, students were exposed to instruments they don’t get to hear as much or see as much—like the euphonium. 

She also countered some stigmas associated with certain instruments, insisting the flute is not a “girly” instrument, and the tuba is not just for boys.

But both Christofferson and Olson believe that certain kinds of personalities are drawn to certain instruments.

“If you are a loud, obnoxious person, this instrument is for you,” Christofferson said about the trombone. She said the whimsical sliding sound attracts that kind of personality.

Senior Riley Baxter, a trombone player at Copper Hills High School, agreed.

“You kind of have a little bit of that inside you, and then when you play the instrument, it gets amplified,” he said. Students from the high school band were there to help the sixth-graders try out the instruments. Students got to blow the horns, finger the valves, slide the slides and pluck the strings of nine different band and orchestra instruments. 

Christofferson said since she began using the petting zoo as a recruitment tool four years ago, her beginning band has grown from 20 students to 65.

“This is what gets me the kids,” said Christofferson, who now has 220 total students enrolled in the seven music classes offered at Sunset Ridge.

Choir director Patricia Rogers agrees the recruitment tool builds her program better than anything else. She invited interested individuals to sing “Happy Birthday to You” to audition for the middle school’s advanced choirs. 

“They all know it and feel comfortable singing it so ‘Happy Birthday’ is my go-to song,” said Rogers. She said it is also a great song to determine a singer’s range and his or her ability to hold a pitch.

The teachers also emphasized the music program as a great place to form lasting friendships.

“We know that they’re really worried about friendships in junior high, and so we talk about band friendships,” said Olson, who is still in touch with her band friends from 40 years ago.

 “It’s so much different than math or English because we work together as a team, and we have to rely on each other to play our parts well,” she said. “Those friendships really form and they’re tight.”