CRE Visits Salem

Through the Center for Rural Engagement’s Rural Arts Series, a Quality of Place initiative, arts and humanities faculty are working with Huntingburg, Nashville, and Salem to bring arts performances and exhibitions to those communities. In spring 2019, one of those partnerships connected the Arts and Humanities Council and music students from the Jacobs School of Music with a school in Salem. Bonnie Harmon, band director at Salem Community Schools, wrote the following letter, reprinted here with her permission, to Jacobs associate professor of music Eric Smedley, who also serves as Chair of the Department of Bands at Jacobs.

Thank you IU Center for Rural Engagement. You changed lives yesterday.

Bonnie Harmon, band director, Salem Community Schools

Dear Eric;

Thank you so much for performing for and with our students here at Salem yesterday.

It has taken me a bit to gather my thoughts so that I can appropriately thank you for a wonderful experience. I just can’t think of anything more impactful for my students than what you all presented to them yesterday. You and your staff and students were warm, welcoming, calming and professional. You opened yourselves to the experience of the side-by-side concert and made it a huge success. 

This is my 30th year of teaching here at Salem, and I’ve never experienced such a powerful program. The best way to attempt to communicate the impact your program has had on my students is to share some stories with you.

I have an student in my band who is painfully shy, but has potential to play very well. Yesterday, your musicians sat on either side of her, included her in the musical experience, gave her advice, talked with her about reeds, fingerings, instruments, etc. She couldn’t stop smiling. This is very rare for her. Today in class, she was so excited about the experience, she shared what she had learned with the class.

We have a lovely young lady who plays tenor saxophone in our band. She was so excited about seeing a bassoon. We do not own one here at Salem, and no family has stepped up to assume the cost of one in my 30 years of teaching here. She saw two bassoons and a contrabassoon yesterday.  The bassoon players spoke with her after the concert and left a bassoon reed in our “reed graveyard” that we have in the band room to encourage students to rotate their reeds.

Music students from the Jacobs School of Music interact with middle school and high school students in Salem. Emily Long, Center for Rural Engagement

My high school and eighth grade bands combine each spring for their concert in an effort to encourage eighth graders to continue as freshmen. The combined bands were the group that played in the side-by-side concert yesterday. They were terrified. Both groups expressed great apprehension about playing alongside such a wonderful ensemble. 

When I stood onstage and asked them if they were ready to take their places in the group, they responded with timid, “no’s” and such pitiful wide-eyed looks of fear I wish you could have seen them … But your students welcomed them. They opened their ranks and encouraged them to sit amidst them. They smiled, they asked names, they shook hands, they shared stories of THEIR eighth grade and high school years. They were magnificent. I quickly saw my students relax and release some of their apprehension.

On one of the selections, one of our students seemed nervous and self-conscious. She loves band. This is her “tribe.” 

When it came time for that song, I could see her fear. Dr. Smedley had the clarinet soloist in the Symphonic Band play the solo first, then struck up the entire combined band. My soloist started softly and began to falter, her confidence waning. The IU clarinetist softly joined in, letting our student take the lead. She gained confidence and finished the solo. Such kindness and compassion! The heart of a teacher was demonstrated by Dr. Smedley and by that fine clarinetist from the Symphonic Band. My student glowed. She believed.

The concert. I haven’t even touched on the concert. It was so good. We had older retirees from the community who came. We had our neighboring school, Eastern Pekin, who brought a busload of students. We had band students in grades sixth through 12th.  We had choir students in grades sixth through 12th.  We had theater arts students and electronic music students from the high school. 

They were astounded by the musical presentation, wowed by Dr. Smedley’s virtuosic performance of “Napoli,” and moved to silence with the Rosa Parks piece.

A grand experience. They left inspired. You gave them new dreams to dream.  

I will share a personal story with you, then I will close. I was moved to tears by the Holst Suite in F. When I played in college, our band at the University of Evansville performed the Suite in F at one of our concerts. The closing section of the suite has an interchange between piccolo and tuba. My younger brother and I performed that at the concert. My father, a farmer who put four of his six children through the University of Evansville with academic scholarships and land mortgages, was never prouder.

I will close by saying again that you have provided a great service to my students. Your expertise during the rehearsal has inspired them. Your kindness and compassion has reassured them that they are doing something worthwhile and doing it well. Your structure of the rehearsal was just right. You soothed their fears and pumped them up. I couldn’t have scripted better things for you to say to my students.

Thank you Dr. Smedley. Thank you Indiana University and the Jacobs School of Music. Thank you IU Center for Rural Engagement. You changed lives yesterday. You all are welcome on our campus anytime.