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Beginning Band Bulging
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Sierra View Elementary School comprises the largest portion of beginning band with approximately 60 students. Total beginning band numbers in the Oakdale school district have doubled since last year. - photo by Kim Van Meter/The Leader

The beginning band program in the Oakdale Joint Unified School District has expanded to twice its size in the course of one year and the bulge in the number of students has required significantly more instruments.
OJUSD band instructor Ross McGinnis did something with beginning band recruitment this year that hasn’t been done before and it likely played a big role in the turnout of new, budding musicians. Because the district’s band program is structured differently than in the past and McGinnis oversees the band programs at each level, he got some of his high school band students to help him recruit the fifth and sixth graders.
“I believe having the high school kids demonstrate the instruments is cooler than some 40-something, balding guy do it,” McGinnis said, referring to himself in a self-deprecating manner. “…When they see people closer to their own age doing it, it’s more accessible.”
He reported that he had the Oakdale High School band section leaders show off their “coolest tricks” specific to their instruments such as playing beat box on the flute, glissandos on the trombone, and growls and scoops on the saxophone. He also had them play popular music such as TV show themes and riffs from songs that students would recognize from the Guitar Hero video game.
“They basically displayed the full capabilities of every instrument,” McGinnis said.
His idea worked, perhaps a little better than expected. McGinnis now has approximately 160 students in beginning band, up from about 80 last year. At the start of this year, he said there were at least 200 students who came to check out beginning band class but the numbers tapered off, as to be expected, although McGinnis admits he thought the attrition would be greater.
With the four elementary schools, McGinnis said that 150 students total will fill the chairs. However, Sierra View Elementary School alone has approximately 60 beginning band students and Fair Oaks Elementary School is just shy of that number.
McGinnis said that other factors that may have helped enrollment at the elementary level is the new field show format of the OHS marching band at the football games, the steel drum band, and the OHS and Oakdale Junior High School bands’ increased involvement in high profile events in the community.
While having a growing band program may be a nice problem to have, the district has had to round up more instruments and still needs at least 20 more.
“We are very close to being equipped,” McGinnis reported, adding that they still have a need especially for clarinets, saxophones, and flutes – in that order.
Wind instruments, or traditional band instruments, are the highest priority right now, he said. He explained that the district doesn’t rent out instruments but loans them to students and the list is prioritized by financial need.
McGinnis said that the district already had to have about 50 instruments repaired in order to get them into the students’ hands. The Oakdale Music Boosters paid for the bulk of the repairs. He reported that the district had some instruments on hand but they also bought on e-bay and online pawnshops, and accepted donations of instruments from the community. He said that he even found some of his old instruments from college stored in his parents’ barn that he had forgotten about and pressed them back into service.
The instruments are getting fixed by the assistant band director from Sonora, who comes on site to do the repairs, saving the expense of sending the instruments to a repair shop, which has an immediate minimum charge of $25.
Band parent and Music Boosters member Augie Beltran reported that the base price to maintain or tune-up any instrument, especially school instruments, ranges from $20 to $150 annually. Tune-ups can include replacing pads, springs, rods, felts, corks, levers, valves, and so on.
Like a car, McGinnis said, they don’t know the condition of an instrument until they’ve “looked under the hood” and gone through it. It may look like it’s in bad shape but may be repairable and the opposite is true as well.
He said that it’s important to do research when purchasing an instrument. Some very cheap instruments are, literally, cheap as they are of such poor quality they’ll have parts that fall off and repair shops won’t deal with them. He said that it’s better to buy a used, quality instrument and refurbish it than to buy a cheap, new one.
“If a student has something that doesn’t work well, they’re going to get frustrated and quit – and we don’t want that,” McGinnis said.
He provided as an example, the cost of a used saxophone for kids to play that is of decent quality will be anywhere from $300-$1,000.
McGinnis said that along with more instruments, he also needs some parent volunteers. He especially needs one parent volunteer at each elementary school to help with inventory, paperwork, to keep track of students, help with fundraising, and help the Music Boosters with fundraising.
He added that he is also trying to build a strings program at the high school level and is in need of violins, violas, and cellos. Other instruments are also acceptable because the program can always use them, he said, as they help students get involved and learn the fundamentals including how to read music.
To donate an instrument or financial support, or for information on volunteering with the beginning band program or the Music Boosters call David at (209) 534-3677 or Augie at (209) 914-5276, or e-mail