Hillman raises $20K for band equipment

News Photo by Julie Goldberg Hillman Elementary School fifth-graders play their instruments on Friday. The school received flutes, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, and mouthpieces because of community donations and grants.

HILLMAN — Hillman Elementary School students now have the opportunity to learn how to play different instruments and read music before they go to middle school.

Thanks to community donations and grants from Presque Isle Electric and Gas Co-op and the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan, the school recently received flutes, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, and mouthpieces for fourth- and fifth-graders to use. The school raised almost $20,000 to make it possible.

Teacher Ben Witter said the community has been very supportive of the students and the school’s band program.

“It’s amazing,” Witter said of being able to make instruments available for the students. “They don’t have to worry about forgetting them at home or forgetting to take them home, they’re just here. It’s great, they get to try them out.”

The instruments are plastic, so they’re light and easy for students to carry. They won’t dent if students drop them. And they’re easy to clean.

“It’s a work-in-progress, right now, but it’s just really amazing to have them,” Witter said.

Fifth-grader Gretchen Weiland, 11, said having band in elementary school is really cool, because Witter puts a lot of time into teaching the students.

“It’s pretty cool, because no other school for elementary is doing this,” fifth-grader Nora Steinke, 11, said.

Students are excited to try the new instruments, Witter said.

“Their eyes sparkle when they get certain instruments, and you can tell which ones they like already, and they’re excited to play certain ones,” he said. “It’s cool to see their excitement and it’s nice that they can just get used to it and there’s no expectation for song, right notes, and all that stuff. It’s just a matter of getting used to the instruments.”

The students are rotating through each instrument and learning the basics of each this school year. In May, they will get to choose which instrument they want to focus on for the remainder of the school year.

“My goal is to be a really good flute player,” Weiland said. “It’s pretty-sounding and I love the sound of it.”

Witter thinks a lot of the fifth-graders will take band classes when they move to the junior/senior high school next year, so his class will double in size.

“Just with the excitement, I think I’ll have almost all of them are going to go on,” Witter said. “There’s no other school I know of that does it this way, and it just really makes sense for the kids, for the students, and for how they learn and how they pick the instrument.”

Next year’s fourth-graders will play each instrument for eight weeks. Witter said that, when they get to fifth grade, those students will already know how to read both bass and treble clef. He said they’ll be a year ahead of everybody else.

“I’m just really happy that I have Mr. Witter as a band teacher, because he’s pushed me,” Weiland said. “He works really hard to get us to our full potential and then once he gets us to our full potential, he works with us all.”

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.