BROOKSVILLE — The rosewood xylophones were beautiful, but had missing keys. To the untrained eye, this might seem like an unfortunate thing. But in reality, Eastside Elementary School music teacher Melissa Parker had purposefully removed the keys to help first-graders more successfully develop a steady beat without superfluous keys being in the way.
"Like the heartbeat of music," Parker said,
Her program includes an interesting variety of instruments, as well as voice. Besides the xylophones, the classroom has seven guitars, 300 recorders, 15 violins (from an anonymous donor) and one djembe (a west African type of drum).
"We just want to have a lush program and give the children a well-rounded education," said the 30-year-old teacher, who has been at Eastside for nine years.
"We have a guitar club," Parker said. And seven Eastside students auditioned for All-State ensembles. One student, fourth-grader Haley Cowart, was selected, the only elementary student in Hernando County with that distinction, Parker said. Twelve students are participating in the All-County Chorus.
"I try to make an effort to build our program each year," she said.
The students have varying instrument preferences.
"My favorite is the guitar," said first-grader Leanna Johnson, 8, "because it vibrates."
"I like the djembe," said first-grader Arion McKinney, 7, "because it makes a loud noise."
"I like the keyboard the most," said first-grader Nataleigh Fowler, 7. "I have a keyboard at home. I play all the time."
Nataleigh also suggested why her music teacher uses so many instruments. "It's joyful," she said.
Parker is a product of the Hernando County school system.
"I grew up here. I went to Eastside Elementary," she said.
She attended Hernando High, remembering specific teachers who had an impact on her — Irv Dorst, Richard Cofer, Sadie Foster, Ana Garcia and Chester Jones.
"They were incredible teachers," she said. "That's what made me want to come back and continue giving."
Parker uses a system of pedagogy called the Orff method.
"Pedagogy is the study of teaching," she said. Through the Orff method, children learn music using singing, movement, play and instruments, particularly percussion. "(These are) teaching practices that work and are effective."
"They love it," Parker said about her students. "It's so much fun. Everyone needs to have skills to make a living, but they need skills to have fun in a healthy way."
Another part of the music program is after-school violin lessons. Community member Ruth Brown was instrumental in bringing violin instruction to Eastside. She taught violin at Eastside after school for many years, then turned the job over to a community member and student of hers, Cecilia Fraker.
Fraker teaches the children for a minimal fee. She has four students in the first-year group and six in the second-year group. The students do not pay a rental fee, nor do they need to worry about repairs. They use the school's instruments.
Second-grader Kaylin Bailey, 7, is taking lessons, she said, "because it's really fun and I like playing music (and) because violin is a beautiful sound."
Second-grader Isabella Avelino, 8, said, "I mostly do it so I can play more things."
Parker appreciates and gives credit to her administrators for the music program.
"Eastside Elementary's music program is very healthy, which is due to a succession of administrators extremely supportive of the arts," she said.
"When I talk to other music teachers, they're amazed at what has happened at Eastside Elementary. I know that I am incredibly lucky to grow in this potting soil."