Union Co. elementary school adds a sweet sound to the curriculum

At a time when many band programs struggle to stay afloat, fifth-grade students at Walter Bickett Elementary School can now learn instruments during school hours.
At a time when many band programs struggle to stay afloat, fifth grade students at Walter Bickett Elementary can now learn instruments during school hours.
Published: Apr. 18, 2022 at 8:22 AM EDT
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UNION COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - One Union County public school is adding some interesting “notes” to the curriculum.

At a time when many band programs struggle to stay afloat, fifth-grade students at Walter Bickett Elementary School can now learn instruments during school hours.

“It’s important for a student to try as many different things as they can,” said Joseph Girgenti, Walter Bickett Elementary’s music instructor. “What happens is a lot of students - once they get to middle school - are afraid to try new things. But fifth graders are more willing to try something new.”

Girgenti - or “Mr. G” as students affectionately refer to him – worked together with the Union County Public School board and Bickett’s school principal to introduce a program that would allow students in their final year before middle school to learn the basics of a musical instrument as an elective.

“If they were interested in joining band, they’re giving up two days of their recess time to be with me to do this all year,” said Girgenti. “At the beginning of the year, I let all of the fifth graders try flute, clarinet, trumpet and trombone.”

Ultimately, 31 out of about 80 students signed up for the class, including fifth-grader Keyli Ortiz who says she’s been waiting for the chance to dive into the clarinet.

“When I was little, my parents told me I was always borrowing their phone to listen to music,” Ortiz said. “And even now, I listen to it when I sleep. So, now I play the clarinet. Sometimes, music is so helpful for you so you can kind of relax and enjoy.”

The students can take home the instruments free of charge and practice. It also frees up time for students to catch the bus home or participate in other after-school activities.

“Mr. G” is also popular amongst the students for his hands-on, effervescent approach to teaching the students, many of them picking up an instrument for the first time ever. Girgenti also writes most of the class’s music.

Marlon Velasquez and Jeremy Saltos, fifth-grade flute and trumpet players in the class, respectively, say Mr. G has a fun way of engaging and inspiring the rising musicians, while also patiently helping those who may not have much experience.

“He’s nice with all of us, says Velasquez. “He doesn’t give us pressure. I like him!”

“He’s respectful, he helps us a lot,” Saltos said. “If we mess up, he tells us, ‘It’s okay; try again.’”

The class is currently learning “Redhawk Fanfare,” a song composed by Girgenti’s twin brother, also a musician. The talented ensemble will perform the composition at the end of the year.

“These students don’t always have every opportunity,” said Girgenti. ‘But I was so grateful to be able to give them this opportunity. I wish when I was in school I started band at their age.”

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