Building bridges through music


Vivian Kaldahl

From left to right, Elijah Daffer, Ethan Wilson, James Minor, Sebastian Matos, Jerome Woolridge, and Alex Gruhn practice playing “Go Big Red”. This is the first song they have learned on their new instruments. Photo by Vivian Kaldahl

Vivian Kaldahl, Distribution Manager

The band room is filled with a multitude of sounds during A2. A group of students playing “Go Big Red” on the sousaphone, baritone, and trumpet; another group playing the xylophone or hitting drum pads, and a pair of students playing clarinets. All together it makes sound, a united sound.

United Sound is a new class to the music department and it was created for our Alternate Curriculum Program (ACP) students, who are considered the New Musicians. The class is overseen by the band director, Darren Myers; and ACP teacher, Leigh Beltzer; but is student led by Peer Mentors who are current band, orchestra, and choir students.

The Mentors are creating new, accessible parts for the New Musicians to play at the winter band concert. The Mentors will then help teach the New Musician their part, play with the musician, and may assist the musician in playing their instrument.

“One of my favorite parts of the class so far has been seeing the student mentors interact with their peers and not being afraid to do so,” Myers said. “Another is seeing the New Musicians’ faces when they find out they can do something completely new!” Beltzer explained that “So often, we under-estimate our students with varying abilities. We have seen, through Unified sports and activities, that our students are capable of so much more!”

Millard South has started the first United Sound chapter in Nebraska. Traditionally, this is offered as an extracurricular activity, but our teachers were determined to offer this as an elective for our ACP students. The national organization, also under the name of United Sound, created a curriculum that teaches music using picture symbols and other methods. This bridged the gap between general band curriculum and special education.

New Musician, Jerome Woolridge, said that “My favorite part of class has been learning the tuba. I really like playing “Go Big Red” with my friends.”

“I’ve learned that no matter what kind of day it is, there’s never a dull moment and there’s always time for uplifting and fun,” chapter president and peer mentor Kylynn Schiermeyer said. “Not one challenge stops them. We’re always having a blast and growing daily,” she said.

The mission of United Sound is to remove barriers and foster social change through music, and it is doing just that. This is only the beginning for United Sound; Darren Myers explains it best when he said, “The Mentors and the New Musicians will all be better because of this class…. and so will I.”