Rangely band director: Popularity creates shortage of instruments

Elvina Burke

New RE-4 music director Christian Saunders works with fifth-grade woodwind students at Parkview Elementary School in Rangely on Tuesday. Higher numbers of students joining the music program and moving up through the elementary school have prompted the need for more instruments, particularly flutes, clarinets and saxophones.
New RE-4 music director Christian Saunders works with fifth-grade woodwind students at Parkview Elementary School in Rangely on Tuesday. Higher numbers of students joining the music program and moving up through the elementary school have prompted the need for more instruments, particularly flutes, clarinets and saxophones.
RANGELY I It wasn’t the fifth-grade students who surprised new Rangely School District RE-4 music director Christian Saunders on the first day of school.
It was that there were 34 of them in his beginning band class.
“I was anticipating 20 or 25 kids,” said Saunders, who became RE-4’s music director this fall, after graduating from Utah State University in May. “But we have a lot more kids coming up through the elementary school and many of those want to learn to play an instrument.”
Given higher enrollment numbers and a limited number of instruments for students to play, the music program is seeking help in furnishing additional instruments, particularly woodwinds.
“My focus is letting the kids play the instrument they really want to learn,” Saunders said. “If you make someone who wants to play the flute learn the tuba, chances are they’re not going to be playing for long.”
The program has lent out the limited number of flutes, clarinets and saxophones it has while a few other families rent instruments from Grand Junction’s Roper Music.
But at $25 to $50 per month to rent a used woodwind, the added expense isn’t in many families’ budgets. Neither is a rent-to-own plan that runs between $350 and $650 for a used flute or clarinet and between $750 and $1,450 for a used alto sax.
Saunders said that while Roper’s rates are in line with costs he saw working in a Utah music store, having the school purchase more instruments is tough given tightening education budgets.
“For a decent student model of a new flute or clarinet, you’re looking at $500 to $800,” Saunders said. “For brass and the bigger instruments, it’s even more.”
The search to supplement limited instrument numbers in K-12 music programs is nothing new in education.
While some bands host “Play it Forward” drives or accept instruments in any condition, Saunders said the schools need workable instruments to meet student needs this current year. That means he will gladly take used instrument donations or consider rental plans or reasonable purchases to make that happen.
“If somebody has an instrument lying around that hasn’t been run over by a semi, we’d gladly accept it,” Saunders said, laughing. “If it’s in good shape, it could also be a $200 to $300 tax write-off as a charitable donation.”
The fact that donations to the school district are tax-deductible is one draw, while giving these students a chance to learn an instrument early on in their educational career is another.
Despite continued funding cuts to the arts in public education – music not the least among them – researchers are learning just how extensive a reach musical training has to other kinds of learning.
“Musically trained kids do better in school, with stronger reading skills, increased math abilities and higher general intelligence scores,” said Scientific American’s Christie Wilcox in a 2012 article. “Music even seems to improve social development as people believe music helps (students) be better team players and have higher self-esteem.”
While Saunders is looking to increase all instrument holdings in anticipation of several large classes coming through the lower elementary grades now, donated instruments will find a use sooner rather than later, he said. That means they’ll be played in concert band for fifth through 12th grades, in pep band at home athletic events and in a jazz ensemble, among other events.
“We’d love to get out and do more with the community,” he said. “Our goal next year is to do the Septemberfest parade. If the community can help us, we’d love to give back to them.”
Donors can bring instruments or cash donations to the Rangely Junior-Senior High School office. For more information, contact Saunders at 675-2253 or email csaunders@rangelyk12.org.