UWS launches Community Music School
The initiative is a "win-win-win" for the college, the community and the students, participants said.
SUPERIOR — The halls of the Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center were alive with music April 18. A group of 6- and 7-year-olds threw scarves, pounded drums and tapped out improvisational rhythms on their shoulders and knees. Voices lifted in song; piano tunes trickled out from behind doors.
Welcome to the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Community Music School.
“The purpose of the Community Music School is to strengthen the pipeline with music teaching and learning and to facilitate lifelong learning in music,” said David Potter, assistant professor and coordinator of Music Education.
The initiative launched in 2021, providing free professional development for music teachers in the community on a monthly basis. This year, individual music lessons for children in the community, taught by university students under the mentorship of faculty, was added.
Ten students in the university music program are currently providing lessons to more than 30 children in the community. They started meeting in January to teach tuba, trombone, trumpet, flute, voice, piano, percussion and saxophone.
For university students, most of them music education or performance majors, it’s an opportunity to jump into a real world situation, flip lessons they’ve been taught around to teach others, and even earn some money — it's a work-study position for them.
“This is something that’s pretty special. I haven’t seen this kind of thing, I don’t think, anywhere else,” said sophomore Seth Gudmunsen, who teaches voice to 10-year-old Kyla Grimm. “I haven’t heard of anything like this. It’s a great thing for the kids, but it’s also a great thing for the students at the university because they get this real-life experience that most don’t get until they’re student teaching.”
Fellow sophomore Claire Jarman, who lives near Lake Nebagamon, has four percussion students, ages 9 to 14. Each is interested in a different instrument, and they bring with them a variety of backgrounds. One has band experience, for example, and another learns by ear.
“We get to figure out each of the different styles,” Jarman said. “We get to figure out individual students’ needs before we’re thrust into a classroom where we fill all of the students’ needs. That’s really a benefit.”
The younger students are enjoying the program, as well.
“It’s actually been incredible. It’s more than I could have imagined,” said Grimm, a fifth grader at Great Lakes Elementary School. “That I get to learn new things every single time I come, that I get to sing these amazing songs I absolutely adore. And it’s just a really nice time working with Seth.”
Her mother, Shantelle Lohman, said Grimm has been singing since she could talk.
“It’s exciting to see her really enjoy something and be so passionate about it that she really, really looks forward to coming every week. It’s just exciting to watch her grow,” Lohman said.
Holly Castro learned about the UWS lessons through the music teacher at Lake Superior Elementary School. She signed her son Ezra, 7, up for piano lessons with UWS sophomore Emma Jones. Castro said Exra tried sports like soccer, but nothing clicked until now.
“This is his thing, and this is making it accessible to a lot of kids. They can find that music passion,” Castro said.
The music lessons are available to all area students.
“We want to make sure finances are never a barrier. So those who, for example, qualify for reduced lunches get their lessons at half price, those who qualify for free lunches get their lessons for free,” Potter said.
It is, said UWS junior and voice performance major Aiden Jones, a win-win-win situation for all.
“It’s probably the most transformative, cool thing that’s happened in my tenure here,” said Brett Jones, UWS professor of percussion and Music Department chairman. “We’re inviting the community into our space and really connecting to hopefully make our community a better place.”
The final piece of the Community Music School, Potter said, will be group music lessons, offering everything from early childhood music classes to songwriting classes for adults.
The experience has already inspired Gudmunsen to bring music to his hometown of St. Croix Falls.
“I’m loving it so much. I want my degree now so I can just start doing the job. And it’s also inspired me to go start my own community school this summer,” he said.
How to sign up
Work is underway to coordinate music lessons for the fall 2023 semester. Potter said that starts with finding out which university students want to participate and what instruments they will teach.
“We'll then be sending out a call in the area to see if there are any families with children who would be interested in studying on those instruments,” Potter said.
Music teachers in area schools will have interest forms to distribute to students. UWS also has online links to the interest forms for individual music lessons and group music lessons. Everyone who signed up for the initial round of lessons, including those on the waiting list, will also be contacted.