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New bank class hits high note with students

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PUYALLUP, Wash. -- Wandering down the hall in Chief Leschi Elementary
School, you might hear an E flat, F sharp or G minor. It might be on
purpose or, possibly, unintentional; but all notes are welcome music to the
ears of Band Director Rick Stockstad. For the first time, beginning band is
being offered at the school, and its fifth- and sixth-grade students are
eager to create some noise.

"I've wanted to be in band for a long time, so it's cool to get an early
start," said 11-year-old Qwillyn Ward, who plays the flute. She practices
10 to 15 minutes a night and said the fingering can be tricky. "It can be
difficult to find certain notes, but I like to be challenged," said Ward,
who's looking forward to performing in upcoming concerts.

Thirty students take part in elementary band, which meets once a week after
school for an hour and a half. Each was able to choose from clarinet,
trombone, flute, trumpet and percussion. Stockstad said reaching students
at this age is ideal. "Their bodies and fine motor skills have developed
enough to be able to handle the instruments and they have lots of
enthusiasm and curiosity," he said.

The clarinet is especially appealing to fifth-grader Caleb Gray. "The
clarinet is the best instrument," asserted Gray, who likes to practice his
fingering chart every day. "Once you master it, you can play any song you
want and make cool sounds."

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To be eligible to be in the band, students must commit to attending
classes, daily practice and good behavior. Instruments are free, but
students or parents are responsible for replacement costs if instruments
are lost or damaged. Stockstad wants the class to understand it's a
privilege to be part of the group. "We make it possible for anyone to
participate in this program, regardless of family income," said Stockstad.
"That is something you would never see in most public schools."

Twelve-year-old Rosemary Wilson has been playing drum for more than three
years. She took up the flute to try something different. "I wanted to learn
something new because it's good to learn new things," said Rosemary, who
practices 30 minutes daily and longer on weekends. "All the instruments
have their own culture. I feel creative and it makes me happy. I'm proud to
learn and know how to play," Rosemary said.

Having students get excited about music is Stockstad's mission. "To watch
children go from being indifferent to passionate about something that will
serve as a tremendous source of enjoyment for the rest of their lives is
thrilling," he said. "If I can have just one or two kids from each class
continue to play their instruments after leaving high school, then I will
feel that all my efforts will have been worthwhile."