Ms. Meyer’s Opus: North Tahoe band director debuts composition
Special to the Sun
More about Meyer
Lena Meyer, who’s also a staff member with the Tahoe Music Institute, attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and graduated with a B.A. in Instrumental Music Education.
During her time at NAU, Lena was in many leadership positions within the School of Music, and she also played second horn in the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra.
Upon graduation, Lena relocated to Scottsdale, Ariz., to teach band at Mountainside Middle School and Anasazi Elementary.
In 2010, Meyer moved to Tahoe City to teach sixth- through eighth-grade band at North Tahoe School.
During her time as a teacher, Lena has taught concert band, jazz band, general music and private French horn lessons.
Last year, Lena completed a Master’s in Music with the American Band College of Sam Houston State University, and was recently named a “Teacher Making a Difference” at North Tahoe School.
Source: Tahoe Music Institute / tahoemusicinstitute.com
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The North Tahoe School and North Tahoe High School Holiday Band Concert in mid-December came with a surprise this year.
At these events, an always-anticipated highlight is the sixth-grade band. For the vast majority of these kids, it is their first performance ever in front of a huge crowd of cheering onlookers. The parents are so supportive they cheer even while the kids are tuning up.
This year, the sixth-grade band was given the honor of presenting the world premiere of a composition written by their instructor, Lena Meyer.
Her piece, “December Snowfall,” was a simple and beautiful ode to snow falling and the holiday season, and it marked her first composition.
Meyer says her decision to write the composition for the band was actually based on her fear that the sixth-graders didn’t have enough time to learn one of the standard pieces that was available.
These compositions tend to be designed for practice every day, and often have a difficult section that requires more work than her kids have time for.
“The class kept missing time because of other commitments,” she says. “I was nervous what the concert would be like and the kids were nervous as well. I took a step back and wanted to make sure the kids are in a good place. It’s supposed to be fun.
“I thought, ‘it couldn’t be that hard to write a song for beginning band.’ I’d had enough performances to know what would be failsafe. It took more time then I thought it might, but I really enjoyed writing it.”
She had the seventh-grade band play “December Snowfall” first to make sure the sixth-graders could do it, made some adjustments based on their input, and then passed it on to the younger students.
They really liked it. Meyer was able to design the composition to the students’ strengths.
“They were excited that the piece was written for them. They would come in the band room and practice on their recess,” she says. “It was adorable. They were being silly, but they were playing music during their recess.”
Meyer would love to have the piece played by other schools and says it would be awesome if it was published some day, but for her, it was really about finding something to make this group of children happy.
Meyer understands the power of playing music to help students find their place in life. She feels it is quite ironic that she now spends her life in a middle school, when her time as a middle school student was the least favorite part of her life.
In seventh grade, shewas living in Alabama and said the only thing that was a bright spot was band, playing the French horn.
“That was the first place in school where I felt I belonged to a group and had a skill that I could contribute,” she says.
And it changed her. She developed friendships. Her self-esteem improved.
“By the end of high school, I was happy and well adjusted and wanted to teach school band after college,” she says.
Now in her fifth year at North Tahoe School, she has six different classes containing 205 band students: Her dream of teaching kids to play has come true in a very big way.
She gets satisfaction from seeing many of her students taking great strides in their abilities. Now that she has been at North Tahoe for five years, she enjoys watching some of her earliest students now in high school playing extremely well.
“I see some kids who couldn’t hold an instrument at the end of sixth grade just a few years later doing an improvised solo in front of a thousand people,” Meyer says.
Her goal is to keep as many kids in band who want to be there, because she knows it is a good place for them to be.
Aside from the large class sizes, one of the biggest challenges of being a band teacher is making sure all the children have access to instruments.
While the school rents instruments to students for the very reasonable price of $75, she wants to make sure even that cost is not too much to keep kids from being part of band.
“We work with kids to provide instruments,” she says — whatever it takes to keep them playing.
So what does a band teacher do after spending the day instructing more than 200 students?
Play in a band of course. Meyer plays trombone and trumpet in Sneaky Creatures, a local seven-piece band that’s been playing an eclectic mix of music together for a few years.
She says they play rockabilly, Gypsy swing, bluegrass, jazz — anything that is fun to listen to.
Because it’s really all about the music, she said, and playing together with your friends.
Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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