Thanks to a program that fills the void between "band camp" and "instruments collecting dust," Worthington middle school students and band leaders gathered last week to learn five songs in just five days.
For the fifth year in a row, band directors from Kilbourne, McCord, Phoenix and Worthingway middle schools guided a weeklong teaching session for the Worthington Summer Band.
It provided a chance for more than 200 students to reacquaint themselves with their instruments during summer vacation.
Meg and Ryan Alexis, band directors at Kilbourne Middle School and McCord Middle School, respectively, have helped organize the Worthington Summer Band since its inception in 2014.
Ryan Alexis said band directors often find that students return to school without touching their instruments over the summer. The goal of the week is less about music mastery and more about students playing music with one another.
"Over the summertime, kids can have their instrument collect dust in the case and not play for a while," he said. "The whole idea is that it's a way to offer kids a chance to play their instrument together with their friends over the summer. It's a way to get them back together and review some concepts, but at the same time have fun playing music together."
The bands were separated into seventh- and eighth-grade groups. Each day, they practiced for about two hours – separated into 30-minute blocks – and learned five pieces of music over the five days.
On July 20, the week culminated in a performance at Thomas Worthington High School. The week also provides a less intense setting for students and band directors to interact with each other, Meg Alexis said. Leaders chose "fun" songs and even had a water-balloon fight, in which the band directors were "demolished."
"Being able to bond with students outside the school in a fun environment where can be a little more goofy and have some more fun ... is a special way to build that connection between students and teachers," Meg Alexis said.
But the lighthearted attitude doesn't mean organizers don't want the students to come away with something substantial.
On top of a week's worth of practice and a large performance, the July 20 showcase also featured Linda Landis, the lead trombonist of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra.
Landis performed solos along with the bands. Ryan Alexis said she was an important part of the week.
"Here's an example; here's someone who does this for a living," he said. "Maybe that can be an inspiration to (students) that they can do this for their whole life."
The event that began with fewer than 100 students and one band now includes well over 200 and multiple bands.
Meg Alexis said it has expanded in "a lot of ways," and she hopes the Worthington Summer Band can keep making a positive impact on students' summers.
"The ball just keeps rolling," she said. "It's getting bigger and bigger."