Students get musical at Mini Funk Factory marching band camp

Elementary and middle school students in the Mini Funk Factory marching band rehearse ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ by Stevie Wonder during band camp.
Elementary and middle school students in the Mini Funk Factory marching band rehearse ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ by Stevie Wonder during band camp.

SALISBURY — This week and next, Salisbury City Park is getting a little louder - and funkier.

The Mini Funk Factory marching band camp is meeting at its new location, provided by the city of Salisbury. Those who listen closely will hear the melody to Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” — the first song that the elementary and middle school children are learning.


Some of the notes sounded harsh on the second day of camp, but Director Anthony Johnson and volunteers say they’re proud of their students. After all, some had never picked up an instrument until the day before.

Soon, Johnson said, they’ll be making music and loving it.

The Rowan-Salisbury School System Mini Funk Factory marching band does not hold auditions. It began as a drumline at Overton Elementary School before expanding to a full band.

For the first time in its three-year history, it is now welcoming students from all Rowan County elementary and middle schools.

Shayne Perry, a student at Southeast Middle School, has just started learning to play the trumpet with the Mini Funk Factory. He chose the instrument because his late brother used to play it.

Shayne struggled a little with the trumpet on Tuesday, but Johnson said his sound had improved dramatically in only one day.

“What did you do last night when you went home?” the director asked, grinning.

“I just played it,” Shayne answered.

He said he’s glad he picked band camp out of the summer activities booklet he got from Southeast Middle.

“I like it, because I get to play an instrument and learn it before I go to school,” Shayne said.

Olivia Alexander, a fifth-grader at Overton Elementary, has been in the band for all three years of its existence.

“We’ve had to practice a lot and work hard, but it was fun,” Olivia said. “We’re playing different songs now, and it’s helping me play faster.”

She now serves as a captain for the percussion section, counting off each run-through as they practice and guiding younger students through the music.

Nikki Wylie, one of the Livingstone College students leading the camp this year, said this helps the students develop confidence and leadership skills.

“They’re not just learning from us. They’re learning from their peers as well,” she said.

Wylie, who plays the trombone, is a senior majoring in music education. She said working with the camp provides valuable experience for her, and one of her favorite parts is the students’ energy.

“All the kids are eager to learn, and you can’t teach them fast enough,” Wylie said. “Also, it lets you be a kid again. ... You get to remember what it was like to play an instrument for the first time yourself, and how you wanted to show everybody what you could do.”

Montee McNeil, a rising sophomore at Salisbury High School, also is offering his experience as a volunteer with the drumline. He said he was glad to agree when Johnson called him up one day and asked if he would help.

“I love music,” McNeil said. “I wish there was a program like this around when I was their age.”

He said the children all appreciate music, too, and they’re excited to learn how to play their instruments. As he taps a beat on a snare drum or pounds on a bass drum, they watch closely and try to match their hands’ movements to his.

Also volunteering at the camp this year are a few Salisbury police cadets.

One of them, Daioosha Williams, a senior at Rowan County Early College, said she doesn’t play an instrument but enjoys helping the children.

“I like interacting with the kids,” Williams said. “It’s nice to see them do something that’s not academic work, that’s fun, but where they’re also learning and cooperating.”

In addition to rehearsals and marching lessons, the two-week camp includes daily music theory workshops led by Sidney Sessoms, band director at Livingstone College. Brand new band members learn the basics of reading sheet music, and those with more experience get a refresher.

On Tuesday, the children played a game to see how quickly they could identify notes on a music staff. Sessoms joked that Johnson would buy the winners ice cream, but the students were already excited just to get the right answer.

Next week, they will learn how to march.

This year, Johnson said he handed over the reins for the camp’s day-to-day operations to Erik Barton, eighth grade science teacher at Knox Middle School. That frees him up to do other work for the band, like finding used instruments and setting up performance dates.

He said the band now includes students from 13 schools. About 100 children have signed up, but only about 35 are participating in the summer band camp.

That could be because there is a $125 fee to attend the camp. For the first time, Johnson said there is also a $50 charge to participate in the Mini Funk Factory.

“That’s just to cover expenses like reeds and valve oil, and we have a ton of instruments that need repairs,” Johnson said.

He said the band is hoping to raise enough money to drop the fee and even help pay for student transportation. But it couldn’t find the funds in time to keep the band camp free of charge.

Anyone who wants to donate instruments or funds can contact the director at anthonyjohnson@me.com.

In the fall, the Mini Funk Factory will meet at least twice a week at City Park.

The young musicians get to perform locally and also travel to places like Charlotte, Winston-Salem and High Point. Johnson said the band is booked for events through January 2014.

He said he’s glad to see the band growing, with many students returning year after year.

“A lot of kids here come because they haven’t found their place yet,” Johnson said. “Then they pick up an instrument and they fit right in.”



Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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