Honing Musical Skills: Mentors in Music

Music mentors and their band instructor provide many hours of help to younger musicians. L to R: Junior Jiangyong Yu, Band Instructor Cristina Toner, sophomore Nevil Desai, junior Logan Hall-Potvin, senior Aiden McGrath, and junior Silva Warren. (senior Courtney Banach not shown)

You may enjoy listening to a tune on the radio and seeing musicians perform on TV or in your community, but not feel that music is a big part of your life. It is quite the contrary for band students at South Burlington High School. Making and teaching music is a regular activity for them.

‘Mentors in Music’, a program at SBHS, consists of musicians from the school’s bands who help less experienced students, who are generally 13 – 15 years old, with their musical skills. The mentors pull these students out of band and teach them for anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and 20 minutes, depending on the length of the mentor’s free period. The focus of these meetings is broad, from building on basic skills by going over rhythm, note recognition and key signatures, to learning scales and music parts, honing playing method, and teaching students how to play an instrument. The mentors may take one kid out of band to build on his/her skill if he/she is having trouble, or they may take out a whole section which, as junior Silva Warren put it, “allows sections to work on the parts that they have trouble with, without making the rest of the band sit and listen.” Though the mentors can take kids out of the band, sometimes they just sit with them in rehearsal and play with them. Warren and senior Courtney Banach also help prep music and organize for band.

The mentors normally are tenth graders or in Symphonic band (second-level) or Wind Ensemble (third-level). As Aiden McGrath put it, “It’s really experience you need in order to be able to mentor effectively.” Also, the band where the mentor is placed to help out, Concert Band (first-level), Symphonic Band or Wind Ensemble is based on his/her skill-level, which must be significantly better than that of the members’ of the band with whom they’re working.

The mentors are varying types of musicians. Warren plays the flute and piccolo, Banach plays the bassoon, McGrath plays the flute, junior Logan Hall-Potvin plays the trombone, tuba, and euphonium, Nevil Desai is a percussionist, and Jiangyong Yu plays the trombone. Warren supports mentors who can play more than one instrument, having explained, “it’s great because multiple sections can use the support.”

The students became mentors for several different reasons. Junior Jiangyong Yu decided to mentor other kids because he likes playing music but couldn’t fit another band into his schedule. He also stated, “I like working with other musicians.” Sophomore Nevil Desai decided to enter the program because he’s interested in “helping other people get better at what they do” and “teaching one-on-one.”

Hall-Potvin was influenced to mentor after his eighth grade year when his brother mentored in his band. “A lot of kids looked up to him and thought he was cool, so I wanted kids to look up to me in that way as well.”

Warren became a mentor because she loves playing her instrument, teaching, and music, and she wants “to spend more time with music.” McGrath’s reason was to help younger kids, having learned that she enjoyed doing so in ninth grade. “I began helping my mom assistant-teach martial arts class and I just loved working with the kids.” Banach joined the program because it fit into her schedule, she’s a natural leader who enjoys helping others, and she likes the work in band. Four out of the six mentors are new to the program this year.

All the mentors have enjoyed their time mentoring so much that they are all planning to continue on with the program until they graduate. The mentors have many different reasons to suggest why others should get involved in the program.

Said Aiden McGrath, “It’s a great program, the younger students really appreciate having you around. Not to mention it’s a great experience in a leadership role, and Mrs. Toner really appreciates the extra hand.”

Logan Hall-Potvin shared the same point-of-view. “It is a great way to become a role model for younger kids…it means a lot to younger students to have an older kid supporting their efforts in music as well as creating a relatively different classroom environment.”

Desai is pleased with its overall objective, saying, “It allows students to progress in their musical virtues.” Warren praised the program, explaining how if you’re interested in “music and helping others/teaching, [it’s] a good program and really fun!”

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