Some days are easier to greet than others, but on Wednesday and Thursday mornings 10-year-old Marshall Jahrling has no problem getting himself up and out the door well before the buses arrive at Northwest Elementary School.
Those are the days of morning rehearsal for the school's fifth-grade Orff Ensemble.
It's a privilege offered to any fifth-grader who wants to sign on. Even so, it takes some commitment from students and parents who have to provide transportation to school.
That doesn't seem to be a problem for Marshall and the 17 students who are preparing for this year's holiday concert, where typically it's standing room only.
"I've waited three years for this," Marshall said on the first formal day of rehearsal in David Fortuna's music classroom. "I like it a lot."
"I wanted to make fifth-grade count because it's the last year of elementary school," said Katie Heintzelman, 10. "I wanted to make this year fun."
It's hard not to touch, but the first instructions from their teacher are to sit down quietly and fight the urge to pick up the yarn-covered mallets.
Orff instruments, with their rich, deep sound, have become a mainstay in local elementary schools — an important facet of the music program, especially with the elimination of elementary school band programs in recent years. The percussion instruments have African roots that resemble the xylophone and were developed in the 1920s by K. Maendler under the direction of composer Carl Orff to introduce young students to the world of music making.
"The whole idea was to make students more comfortable with an instrument that is somewhat easy to play rather than more complicated instruments like the piano," said Fortuna. "With Orff instruments, students don't have to be nervous about playing."
They also give students a chance to find a niche or discover a talent that might propel them into next year's middle school band program.
During morning rehearsals, students get to play, but they also learn some basics: how to bounce the mallets properly off the bars to create the right sound; how to recognize the various notes, the staff and bar lines and how long notes should be held so everyone will be in sync when they accompany the chorus for Christmas in Any Language.
First, though, comes a little lesson in jazz improvisation that Fortuna assures will sound great no matter what note they hit.
Then Fortuna tells them to let loose with a solo.
There's some reluctance at first, answered by Fortuna's encouragement.
"Any note you hit now will sound all right," he reminds his timid students. "The only mistake you can make is not to try."
Glen Hobbs, 10, who has a little experience playing trumpet and electric guitar, is the first to start them off.
Then, one after another, they all give it a go. More hands shoot up as these eager young musicians plead for the chance to give it yet another try.