DECATUR – The registration form for the Greater Decatur Youth Band state: “Why practice at home when you can jam in the park?”
That's slightly misleading, said Gary Shaw, chairman of winds, brass and percussion, professor of music and conductor of the Millikin University Wind Ensemble.
“You have to practice even more at home,” Shaw said.
The summer youth band, a cooperative effort of Millikin, Decatur Park District, Samuel Music, Team Soy Capital and the Symphony Orchestra Guild of Decatur, offers young musicians from fifth grade through high school a chance to keep their skills sharp while school is out, play with musicians from other schools, and maybe try some pieces they wouldn't see in a typical band class.
“What's nice about it is, most of these kids go to schools where they might only have five to 10 students in the band, and now they get to play with a full band with all the instruments,” Shaw said. “It gives them a better experience, playing in a complete band with flutes, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, percussion.”
In school, Shaw said, band students might practice the entire fall semester before their first concert. These kids get a couple of weeks of hard work in before their first show today in the Millikin Quad.
“I like to give them a variety (of music),” Shaw said. “Sometimes, we do some familiar pop stuff, and sometimes something from a current movie or a show like 'The Little Mermaid' or 'Star Wars.' We usually do at least one march and something that's slow. We make sure they have the right fingerings and that they feel good about it and don't go home and think, 'It's too hard.'”
It's a big group this year, 85 students in all, counting the fourth- through sixth-grade band and the seventh- through 10th-grade band.
One of those is Emily Hill, a senior at Warrensburg-Latham High School who has been in the program every year since fifth grade. She plays the flute, alto flute, piccolo and piano.
“I can't imagine my life without music in it,” she said.
The group also has the help of a couple of Millikin music students, Chris Raymond and Adam Blakey. Both are performance majors who can fill in on several instruments as needed and direct.
Shaw said he's always pleased when kids come back year after year, but he's also happy to see the new faces.
“Of course, I think every kid should play in band,” he said with a smile.