Overton Elementary marching band adds new instruments, colorguard section and iPads

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 18, 2012

By Sara Campbell
SALISBURY – People attending the Blues and Jazz Festival on Saturday will likely hear the Mini Funk Factory marching band before they see them.
The band plans to perform while traveling down West Fisher Street from South Main Street to the parking lot across from the Rowan Public Library where the festival will be held.
Attendees might be surprised when they finally lay eyes on the band, which is made up of students from Overton Elementary School.
Band director Anthony Johnson said he’s hoping to play the jazz tune “Lovely Thang” when the band arrives. The song is popular in spots like New Orleans and Atlanta, he said.
“We’re working on it,” he said Wednesday. ‘I’m not sure if it’s going to be ready or not.”
If they can’t tackle that one, Johnson said they’ll play Rebirth Brass Band’s “Do Whatcha Wanna.”
The festival will be the band’s fifth performance this year. They’ve already played for the North Carolina School Board Association and alongside the Livingstone College Marching Blue Bear Band during halftime of the homecoming game.
Johnson, who works as the technology facilitator at the school, said he’s amazed how much the band has grown since its inception nearly two years ago.
It started with a drumline made up of about five students and has transformed into a full-fledged band complete with horns and a newly-formed colorguard.
At its peak the band had 140 members, but after Johnson added a study hall component to daily practices the numbers dropped. It now has about 115 members.
“I never thought it would turn into this but it’s been so much fun,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the students knock out homework and participate in silent reading from 2:15 to 3:30 p.m. before picking up their instruments on Tuesdays and Wednesdays after school. The study hall also gives them time to fuel up with an afternoon snack.
“It’s really an extension of the school day,” he said.
If students show up to class the day after practice without finishing their homework, Johnson said there are consequences.
The first time students are suspended from band for two weeks and if it happens again they are dismissed altogether.
“This is not free time, we are not playing around,” Johnson said.
Johnson said it was important to begin the study hall because he wants to ensure that students are doing well academically.
The component is part of The Roots of Music, an after school band programed based in New Orleans that Johnson models the Overton program after.
Within the past year the band’s horn section has grown drastically.
The number of trumpet players has more than doubled to about 25 students. There are now a total of 16 trombones, up from six.
Johnson said clarinets and saxophones have also been added.
A grant from the Robertson Family Foundation covered the cost of the new instruments.
Johnson said the school also has a band room now where the students can practice. It serves as storage space for instruments and uniforms.
The marching band’s new colorguard section, led by Enochville Elementary teacher Amy Vedeikis, has about 20 members.
“They’ve been so enthusiastic about wanting to learn how to spin the flags, but we had to start with the basics like how to hold them properly,” she said.
Vedeikis, who was a member of colorguard in high school, said she volunteered her time when she heard Johnson was trying to start up a colorguard.
“It’s been so much fun, I really enjoy it,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of the students become leaders, I’ve really seen a transformation from the beginning of the year.”
Overton students also have a chance to use iPads as a tool to learn how to play their instruments.
Johnson said a variety of applications guide students through the songs as students play along. He uses the technology to compose music and send it to students digitally rather than handing out sheet music.
The students can also use the 26 iPads as instruments, Johnson said. He’s already created a digital Mini Funk Factory band.
Livingstone band director Sidney Sessoms, who stops by to offer his expertise at least once a month, said the students are no longer simply playing songs in unison.
“They’ve added some harmonic parts,” he said. “Now that the kids are grasping the fundamental concepts of the instruments, it’s allowed them to produce a better tone than they did a year ago.”
Johnson, who launched the drumline as a way to share his love of music with his students, said he’s seen students’ self-confidence grow as they conquer new songs and perform throughout the county.
Sharika Heggins, who is a volunteer assistant with the band’s colorguard, said her son Kameron Cutherbertson has flourished while being a part of the band.
“He really loves it and it challenges him,” she said. “He likes to give up on things easily, but I’ve pushed him to keep going and he’s really proud at what he can do now.”
Heggins, who was in band during high school, said she was thrilled when Kameron came home a year ago excited about joining the band.
“I try to encourage him because I know that this is something he can do later on,” she said. “It might even help him get a scholarship.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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Find out more
Get a glimpse inside band practice by visiting iTunes U inside the iTunes store. From there click “Apple Distinguished Educators followed by “Music Across the Curriculum.” 
Johnson has uploaded a video called Band Practice. 
The Overton Elementary School website also has information about the marching band and iPad band. Click “staff” after navigating to the homepage. Both are listed at the bottom of the page under the heading organizations and clubs.