St. Jerome Academy band integrates music with school’s classical curriculum
Jan 23, 2018
For Adam Kramer, who graduated from St. Jerome Academy in Hyattsville in June, participating in the school band was an experience that challenged him to push the limit of what he thought was possible for himself. While playing the trumpet, he said he learned “the amount of growth that can be achieved through hard work.”
Over the past four years, the band at St. Jerome Academy has continually grown under the leadership of Kate Suuberg, the band teacher, who began teaching there after graduating from the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at The Catholic University of America in 2013.
When she began, Suuberg gave the students what she thought was “easy music,” but the students said they thought it was very difficult. Nevertheless, they learned the music, and grew to enjoy how much their band teacher was challenging them.
“Being a musician has inspired me to push the limit and go the extra mile…I want to push the limit and see how good I can get at what I do…and be a musician for the rest of my life,” said Kramer.
Even by the end of the first year, Suuberg was amazed at the difference she could hear in the quality of the music. Over the next few years, the band continued to grow in size, eventually going from about 20 to 60 students, largely due to word of mouth by other students.
“I had always seen Adam with a smile on his face saying how fun band was, so I decided, why not give it a try?” said Charles Wade, who graduated in June and now attends Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville.
Ni-Ann Cross, a seventh grade student at St. Jerome Academy, saw her brother playing an instrument and asked him, “How do you do that?” His response was, “Join band and you’ll find out,” so she did. Now, she practices the clarinet several hours per week and says it relaxes her whenever she is stressed.
The contagious enthusiasm from the band comes from the fact that Suuberg made band attractive for kids to join, said Daniel Flynn, the principal of St. Jerome.
“Kids want to do it because they want to be a part of it,” he added, noting that he never has to remind his four children in the band to practice – they just know it is expected of them. And in case they forget, “Go home and practice” is written on the back of the band T-shirts.
The school has both a beginner band, for students in grades 4-8 who are just starting to play their instrument, and an advanced band, for experienced players in grades 5-8. In addition to the usual brass section, the band includes xylophones, glockenspiel, timpani and cymbals. They play a combination of classical songs and songs that students would recognize, such as “Happy” or “Eye of the Tiger.”
The band is a part of the Archdiocesan Music Program, which is an independent program that runs band programs in about 50 Catholic elementary schools throughout the Archdiocese of Washington. The program is tuition-based, so students pay additional tuition in order to participate in the band program, but there are also financial aid options available. Suuberg, like all band teachers in the program, teaches at several different schools on different days.
Through this model, school band programs are more sustainable than if each school were to try to hire a band director on their own, which allows the program to pursue its mission to “give as many students as possible the opportunity to play an instrument,” said Duane Petrow, the assistant supervisor of the program.
“Not everybody is going to be an academic standout; not everyone is going to be a computer scientist,” he said. “There are some kids who need to have that creative side of their brains opened up, and that is what band does.”
But for many students in the band at St. Jerome Academy, the creativity of music blends together with what they are learning in school. Since they play music from different countries, such as “Arabian Dances” and “Bells of Scotland,” Cross said it helps with history and literature.
Kramer pointed out that it also helps in math class, because if they can learn to count in time with quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes, then they are able to work with fractions better.
“In one way it’s separate from school, and in another way it ties in together and creates its own flow,” said Wade.
St. Jerome Academy has a classical curriculum, which cycles through five different periods of history twice between kindergarten and eighth grade. With this model, Flynn said music is naturally incorporated into classes, and often students will use their instruments from band to provide background music for a skit they are doing in class.
“It gives them a more open mind and a much broader point of view,” Suuberg said about the curriculum at the school. “…The thing I think is most remarkable here is not just the band itself; it is the kind of environment that made the band possible.”
The Archdiocesan Music Program, which began in 1962, compiles an Honor Band in each region of the archdiocese every year, which brings together some of the best musicians from the individual elementary school bands. A separate program, the Washington Archdiocesan Music Teachers Council (WAMTC), hosts an honor band for high school students in the archdiocese.
Once a year, many of the bands go to Kings Dominion to participate in a band festival. Josephine Baur, who last year was the first place winner of the WAMTC scholarship competition and after graduating from St. Jerome Academy now plays in the band at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, said the Kings Dominion competition was intimidating, because they were competing against public school bands who are able to practice every day, whereas they come from a small school and only practice once a week.
Nevertheless, this past May the St. Jerome Academy band won third place in the full competition and was the highest scoring band in the archdiocese.
“It’s neat to see how far we’ve gotten,” said Maura Flynn, a freshman at Mount De Sales Academy in Catonsville who played the trumpet in the St. Jerome band.
Petrow, who has been teaching in the Archdiocesan Music Program for 38 years, said he thinks the St. Jerome band is the highest quality band he has heard, and enjoys attending their rehearsals to hear them play. He said it makes him proud to see the program give students an opportunity that may not otherwise exist.
“You never know which [student] it is going to touch. You might see some kids who can’t afford to do it, [but we] try to make that an opportunity,” said Petrow. “You never know where the next musical genius is going to come from.”
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