Landon’s new most popular subjects: band and chorus

Landon’s new most popular subjects: band and chorus
A portion of the Landon Symphonic Band performed at Barnes and Noble Dec. 9. Playing in the band were (front): Zoe Sierra, Amelia Dyer, Lacy Murphy, Ava Ondish, Kaitlyn Hancock, Brooke Ley. Second row: Dominic DiGregorio. Back: Jack Faulkner, Aida Omerovic (hidden), Samuel Kritzmire, Caine Burleson, and Kyle Beckstrom.

Music is back in full force at Julia Landon College Preparatory School.

Over the past two years, band and chorus have been added to Landon’s curriculum, allowing its students to once again learn the intricacies of harmony and melody.

For the past several years, only music appreciation – where listening was the only option – joined physical education, health, visual arts, Spanish, French, leadership courses, technology courses, extreme sports, journalism, critical thinking and creative writing as electives apart from the academic basics.

Thanks to the change in curriculum, students at the leadership magnet now have the chance to learn how to make music themselves by participating in band and chorus.

When Kristopher Beckstrom, Landon’s choral and band director, first took a job at Landon 17 years ago, he taught band, chorus and music at what was then a neighborhood school. Two years prior to his arrival, Landon had been a dedicated arts magnet, which included a music curriculum. A few years after Beckstrom’s arrival, budget cuts required the loss of chorus from the curriculum.

Landon Bandmaster Kristopher Beckstrom with bandmembers Cibi Anbarasu, Jaden Flood, Madeline Clark, Rashmi Ketepalle, Kyle Beckstrom and McKenna Geoghagan.

Landon Bandmaster Kristopher Beckstrom with bandmembers Cibi Anbarasu, Jaden Flood, Madeline Clark, Rashmi Ketepalle, Kyle Beckstrom and McKenna Geoghagan.

After the school became a dedicated magnet nearly a decade ago, band was dropped, leaving Beckstrom, who trained as a bandmaster and music teacher, to teach music appreciation alongside critical thinking and computer science. “The kids were able to study about music but didn’t actually have the opportunity to make music,” he said.

All that changed in the spring of 2015 when former Landon Principal Sara Bravo asked Beckstrom if he was interested in teaching band the next fall. Although Bravo was transferred to another school, Principal Timothy Feagins was on board with the change, Beckstrom said, noting he was amazed when 124 students signed up for the beginning program.

Now in its second year, 170 students have signed up for band and 104 for chorus, which was added to the curriculum this year, Beckstrom said. With the additional band students, the program has expanded to include a symphonic band for the second-year students, he said.

“Mr. Feagins asked me if I would like to teach chorus because a lot of the parents wanted it,” he said, noting Hendricks Avenue Elementary, which feeds into Landon, has an active choral program, allowing for the HAE students who choose to go to Landon (more than 25 percent of the student body) the opportunity to continue their choral studies. With 35 percent of Landon’s student body now signed up for band, chorus or both, Beckstrom’s class-load has increased to include four band classes – two for strictly beginners, one for second-year students and one for both – as well as two choral classes. Because of the popularity of band and chorus, music appreciation is no longer offered at the school, he said.

“My goal is that I want the kids to be able to continue band in high school if they choose to,” he said. “I want to give them a strong foundation in music.”

Although he does not plan to have his students compete against other bands in the near future, Beckstrom said he still wants to see how they perform musically outside of the school. To do this, he plans to enter them in a Music Performance Assessment (MPA) program run by the Florida Bandmasters Association (FBA) this spring at Fernandina Beach Middle School. “We will be going for the scores and comments,” he said. “I could have them do comments only, but I want the kids to have the full experience even though it’s a young program.”

A self-professed band geek who can play nearly every instrument, Beckstrom said he became interested in becoming a band director due to the influence of his bandmaster at Fletcher Junior High, Dr. William Holman. Beckstrom continued with band at Sandelwood High School, playing clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone, and eventually went on to study music education and Spanish at Jacksonville University. After graduation, he tested the waters by substitute teaching in Duval County before landing his first job at Landon Middle School.

“My goal is to be here when I retire,” he said. “I want to build the program at Landon. I want to make this program so popular they will eventually have to hire another music teacher. I want to make it so there are more kids in the program than I can teach by myself.”

Rashmi Ketepalle, a seventh grader and second-year band student, said she enjoys band because it’s “the most interactive class I’m in.

“Band separates the talkative people from the non-talkative people,” Ketepalle continued. “It builds up your listening skills. If you don’t pay attention, you don’t do well. It has added a whole new area to the school and integrates art with the academics,” she said.

Beckstrom said band and chorus coincide nicely with Landon’s heavy emphasis on academics. “The students learn self-discipline, which helps them in all their classes,” he said, adding there have been studies indicating students who learn to play an instrument and perform often do better on standardized tests and tend to excel in mathematics.

“I can’t imagine doing any other job,” said Beckstrom, who claims to be the “Susan Lucci of Landon” having been nominated for Teacher-of-the-Year honors seven years in a row before receiving the title last year after the band program was initiated. “I tell people I have the best job in the school. I have so much fun making music and listening to the kids make music. I love seeing what they can do.”


By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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