Covid stopped the music. Now this school is striking up the band again

NEW YORK (AP) — Roshan Reddy counted to three while surrounded by colorful violins and music theory posters on the classroom walls. The band room at Public School 11 in Brooklyn was filled with the first notes of Adele’s “Easy on Me” as he raised his palm. Despite clarinet squeaks and a stray saxophone bleat, almost every student was smiling.

It had been a long two years for Reddy’s fourth and fifth-grade band students, as well as music teachers and their students throughout New York City. According to instructors and experts, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools, Public School 11’s music program was among many that struggled to transition online, disrupting children’s introduction to music during some of the most critical years for musical development.

Public School 11 students with instruments practiced in their living rooms, fire escapes, and grandparents’ basements. Many, however, had left their instruments at home and were forced to watch from the sidelines as their peers attempted to keep time with one another via Google Meet.

Now that the Public School 11 band students have returned to the classroom, they are rediscovering their musical confidence. But filling the void left by lost instruction has not been easy. Pandemic school closures were especially disruptive for students whose only access to music education comes from their public schools. However, research suggests that music can help children rebuild what they have lost.

Public School 11 Principal Abidemi Hope believes that having a music program at the school helps her students develop skills other than academic readiness, such as improving their listening and speaking skills, learning to ask questions, and making complex discoveries. It is also about providing students from her economically diverse school with access to music regardless of their financial situation.

When Hope was appointed principal in 2014, the school was academically focused, with a small music program of around 40 students. “That was always something I wanted to change,” she explained.

Hope hired Reddy, a working musician, as her band program’s full-time music director in 2018. He had already spent two years as a substitute teacher for the New York State Department of Education, teaching in almost every neighborhood in Brooklyn, but Hope’s vision for the music program impressed him. The program quadrupled in size, thanks to a combination of school and PTA funds. Students from the revitalized music program performed for three hours at their final concert in the spring of 2019.

Some of Reddy’s students have already accepted placements at middle schools with specialized music programs as Public School 11’s fifth grade class of 2022 prepares to graduate this month. The band program’s goal is to prepare students for more difficult music instruction. But, mostly, Reddy says, he wants children to leave school with a love of music.

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