The new sound of music

Band returns to WyCo Catholic schools

By Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It didn’t sound like music yet.

Just a lot of bangs, squawks and strangled toots.

But Adam Braunschweig, the new band director, was patient.

Braunschweig went to each member of the fledgling Christ the King School Band and walked everyone from the trumpeter to the drummer through the first steps of learning instrumental music during a class on Sept. 17.

How to evenly tighten a drumhead. How to pucker and buzz into a mouthpiece. How to oil an instrument. Where the spit valves are and how to clear them.

“That’s nasty!” exclaimed Kamryee Gordon, an eighth-grader.

Yes, where there is instrumental music, there will be spit.

It’s just another aspect of band that neophyte players are learning at Bishop Ward High School, and

Resurrection at the Cathedral, Christ the King, Our Lady of Unity, Holy Name and St. Patrick elementary schools in Kansas City, Kan.

Before this school year began, not one of these Wyandotte County Catholic schools had an instrumental music program.

“Bishop Ward High School is a 103-year-old school,” said Father Michael Hermes, president. “We have photos of a marching band and pep band. We used to have quite a large music program.”

Unfortunately, that program ended in 2002, leaving not only a gap in the educational experience at Ward, but also a social void. The program’s demise meant no concerts at the schools — indeed, not even so much as a pep band rousing fans at Ward’s football games.

Because its absence was so keenly felt, a benefactor offered funds specifically to help reboot the band.

Father Hermes, principal Judy Warren, and the Ward board approved the proposal.

Realizing the importance of the surrounding Catholic schools to its own future — more than 80 percent of its students come from these feeder schools — Ward decided to expand its program.

The next step was obvious: Ward needed to get its own music man.

Ward found one in Adam Braunschweig, a native of Holyoke, Mass. He has a bachelor’s in music education from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and a master’s in ethnomusicology from the University of Limerick, Ireland. He taught music in Kansas City, Mo., public schools from 2008 to 2010.

He didn’t have much to start with: 66 music stands, a drum set and an old marching base drum — both in disrepair — and a lot of sheet instrumental music. The only instruments he had were on the walls of the music room — as decorations.

“I refurbished a couple of those instruments, but most of them were pretty beat up,” said Braunschweig. “No one knew who they belonged to. I think the last band teacher bought them at thrift stores. You could buy new instruments for the amount of money you’d have to put in [to repair] them.”

With the benefactor’s funds, Braunschweig bought a limited number of instruments for Ward and the five Catholic elementary schools of Wyandotte County.

But rounding up decent instruments is just one of Braunschweig’s challenges. The other is he has no returning veterans, no established program. The students have to be taught the fundamentals. In short, they’ll need to learn how to read music to play the instrument they’ve never touched before. It’s almost like teaching a bunch of kids from Tahiti how to play ice hockey.

Fortunately, the one thing Braunschweig has in abundance is enthusiasm — both his own and his students.

“I love band,” said Marcus Blake, a Christ the King eighth-grader and snare drummer. “I just can’t wait to play my drums. I like beating it. I like doing beats on my desk sometimes. I’m not supposed to, but I do it anyway.”

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Braunschweig. “On the high school level I think kids are a little shy to try something that they’ll have to learn from scratch, but the kids who have signed up for the class are finding it a challenge but also pretty rewarding.”

Ben Turkovic, a Ward senior, has always loved music. He already can play guitar, drums and bass, but he signed up for band in order to play saxophone.

“I feel like I’m doing surprisingly well,” said Turkovic. “The first couple of days were hard, just getting used to it. These things take time. I could not read music [before]. It’s not easy. It’s just something new, a challenge.”

He likes the class because it’s not stressful.

“Mr. Braunschweig has a great personality,” said Turkovic. “He’s very laid-back, and he allows everyone to learn at their own pace.  It’s a relaxed environment. It’s not stressful. It’s a class I look forward to.”

“Right now, only one or two people really play their instruments,” he continued. “Pretty much everyone’s starting new. Right now we’re on the basics, but we’re also working on cohesion.”

Nine students are in the Ward band, but some of the grade schools have between 15 and 30 students signed up. Although he wanted to offer the program to all sixth- to eighth-grade students, Braunschweig can’t take them all because he doesn’t have enough instruments to loan.

“Right now, we only have enough instruments for students in the eighth grade,” he said.

He’s looking for donated instruments, therefore, in decent shape. He’d particularly like clarinets, trumpets, trombones, saxophones and drums.

“We’re just really excited and we see great potential for our students, and for the whole community,” said Warren. “I think everyone enjoys a good band and seeing the kids perform.”

The Ward band’s first performance is tentatively scheduled for a Nov. 13 fundraiser.

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