The Harmony Project: Matching instruments, mentors, to students

June 2021 Posted in Uncategorized

By Melissa Wagoner

Cecelia Petrik tutoring a fifth grader on the clarinet

Cecelia Petrik tutoring a fifth grader on the clarinet

When Frank Petrik was a child, he found an old saxophone in his grandfather’s closet. That moment set him on the path to college, a full-ride scholarship,
and eventually a career as a band teacher, sharing a love for music with generations of students. But it all leads back to that day.

“Had he not been given that instrument, his family would not have been able to afford to purchase him a saxophone,” Frank’s wife, Amanda, said. She explained that it is for this reason that Frank, with the help of Silverton Friends of Music, has started the Harmony Project.

Based on a program that provides music lessons to at-risk youth in California, the Silverton Harmony Project plans to provide qualifying fifth grade students with a quality instrument and a music mentor.

“[E]very child should be able to participate in music,” Amanda said of the project’s goal. “We should remove financial barriers for kids in Silverton.”

Because even with some school-sanctioned band instruction taking place within the Silver Falls School District, the instruments available are often dated or in poor condition, which can hold beginning students back.

“When they’re starting to learn they need something of quality,” Frank said. “But the district hasn’t had the funds or made it a priority to replace those instruments.”

Instruments are only the first step, however. Matching students with a high school-aged mentor is the next.

“You really don’t know something until you teach it,” Frank said. He is an instructor at Silverton High School.

Which is why he encouraged his own children – Charles and Cecelia, both students at SHS – to become involved in the program as well.

“It was really fun,” the Petriks’ daughter, Cecelia, said of her experience teaching beginning clarinet.

“It wasn’t like a private lesson; it was like connecting on a personal level.”

Older brother Charles, who gave trumpet lessons for over a year, agreed.

“It’s been very fulfilling,” he said. “I built a personal relationship. It’s less, ‘this is my job and you’re my student’ and more of a collaborative relationship. It provides meaning to my day and I know it provides meaning to their day as well.”

It has also been a way for both Charles and Cecelia’s mentees to continue receiving virtual music lessons during the COVID pandemic, when student band practice was no longer an option.

“COVID has definitely killed the band program,” Amanda said.

“But I’m hopeful we’ll be able to continue the growth of the [Harmony] Program,” Frank said, “so that every fifth grader is paired with a high schooler. Then you are really building a program of excellence.”

But it all hinges on gaining the interest of those fifth graders and ensuring they are well-prepared for middle school band.

“There’s a lot of research that says fifth grade is the ideal starting point for band,” Sarah Weitzman, who also sits on the Silverton Friends of Music board, pointed out. “And if we don’t start capturing these younger players, we’re not going to have the ‘big band’ effect in high school.”

Prior to middle school, district-provided music lessons at the younger, elementary level has almost entirely been teacher- driven. It’s often inconsistent, based on the music skills of individual instructors or on parents seeking – and funding – private lessons.

“We knew that kids of affluent families would have music lessons and be able to buy instruments or even change schools where music was offered,” Amanda said of how Silverton Friends of Music viewed the situation. “This was our effort at trying to get instruments into the hands of kids without those luxuries.”

Largely in the planning stage, Silverton Friends of Music is currently seeking quality instruments as well as high school-aged mentors in order to get the Harmony Project off the ground.

“We have been gifted a trumpet, two clarinets and a trombone so far,” Weitzman listed.

They are also looking for fifth grade students interested in learning a band instrument and committing to at least four years of practice.

“We want to open up doors to something every kid should have access to,” Amanda said.

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