Gentry Band Members Rehearse With UA Band in Education Renewal Zone Program

Gentry High School band members sitting shoulder to shoulder with University of Arkansas band members were recognizable by their maroon polo shirts, and they did look a little younger than their collegiate counterparts.

Karri Altrogge, the Gentry band director, is a University of Arkansas alumna who played euphonium in the band not many years before. On March 12, she stood on a podium in the Lewis E. Epley Jr. Band Building to direct her Gentry band members and the UA Concert Band as they played “Old Scottish Melody.”

Altrogge told the band members to concentrate on the highs and lows in the music.

“People like dynamic change,” she said about the piece also known as “Auld Lang Syne.” “It makes them listen more because they don’t know what to expect. Think about what you can do to make this music more passionate.”

The visit by the 35 members of the Gentry High School band was made possible by a partnership program called Adopt-A-Classroom established by the Education Renewal Zone based in the College of Education and Health Professions. When Elizabeth Smith, director of the Education Renewal Zone, put out a call for faculty volunteers to partner with local school districts, Benjamin Chamberlain answered. He taught high school and junior high music before joining the UA faculty in 2011. He serves as associate director of bands.

“Working with this age group is absolutely thrilling,” he said. Chamberlain spent the day Feb. 22 teaching the music students in Gentry middle school and high school. “These students are so enthusiastic about the music, so willing to explore new musical ideas. They are a joy to conduct.”

Smith plays the conductor role herself, working to match university faculty with K-12 teachers in one of 23 partner schools. These are schools in rural areas or schools that serve populations typically underrepresented in higher education.

Sixteen UA faculty members are partnering with K-12 teachers across five districts in Northwest Arkansas, Smith said. Faculty classroom projects so far have included building water filtration systems with second-graders in Gentry, bringing a human brain to middle school students in Farmington, and teaching high schoolers in Springdale about food portion size.

“The faculty have expressed admiration for their partner teachers and have really enjoyed working with them,” Smith said. “We want to expand the program to more K-12 teachers in the fall.”

Altrogge said the school and community of Gentry were honored to be chosen for the program and her students were excited to visit campus. It was the first trip to a university for many of them, she said. The experience of rehearsing with the university students also broadened their horizons, she said.

"Until today, most of the students had never experienced playing in a band with full instrumentation,” Altrogge said. “The priority for a small band is to first fill the primary sections, such as flutes, clarinets, trumpets, etc., and often times are not able to include the ‘tone color’ instruments such as bassoons, oboes, and bari-saxes. Hopefully, in the future the band can acquire a bassoon, bari-sax, and other tone color instruments so that the students can experience a full wind band on a daily basis.”

The Gentry group arrived on campus at mid-afternoon and spent an hour observing as Christopher Knighten, director of bands, directed a rehearsal of the Wind Ensemble. Then, UA drum majors Nathan Cunningham and Jamey Julian took the Gentry students on a short tour of the Arkansas Union.

On their return to the Epley Band Building, Gentry High School joined the UA Concert Band for a side-by-side rehearsal. Conducting graduate assistant Alex Badour led the joint ensemble in a Bach chorale for warm up. Altrogge conducted a short arrangement of “Old Scottish Melody.” Chamberlain concluded with a rehearsal of “Overture for Winds” by Carter.

“For the Gentry students, this is the first opportunity to play and hear this music with complete instrumentation,” Chamberlain said. “One of the challenges for a more rural school is that they may lack double reeds or they have just one horn for a piece that calls for four. Today, I am glad to give them the opportunity to play side by side with our college students and hear this music in its entirety for the first time.”

On April 10, Chamberlain, conducting graduate assistant Michael Moon and members of the UA music department will go to Gentry and give a master class performance of Richard Strauss Serenade in Eb, Op. 7. On April 21, the students will attend a dress rehearsal of the UA bands at the Walton Arts Center with Altrogge conducting “Old Scottish Melody.”

To wrap up the semester-long partnership on April 23, the Gentry band will attend the performance by the UA Concert Band and Wind Ensemble at the Walton Arts Center conducted by Chamberlain and Knighten. Altrogge, Badour and Moon will be guest conductors.


Heidi Wells, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions


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