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Store Helps Students Find The Right Instrumental Fit


Putting up with the squawks and squeaks of elementary school band can take patience. A Michigan music store is helping children choose the right instrument with a traveling roadshow. Michigan Radio's Kyle Norris reports.

KYLE NORRIS, BYLINE: It's band prep time, and here's how it works - about 20 music professionals and retired music teachers are hauling dozens and dozens of instruments into a school. They've set up 10 stations. Each station has a saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, flute and trombone.

Then a bunch of fifth graders show up.

MATTHEW JONES: So you're going to hear some pretty weird haunts and squeaks coming out of some of these horns.

NORRIS: Matthew Jones is a repair man at the Port Huron Music Center. And today, he's running an instrument fitting at Landmark Academy in a little town called Kimball.

JONES: You are with me.

NORRIS: Jones brings Karis Roszczewski to a station where they sit face-to-face. He asks her what she wants to try, and she says clarinet because she likes the way that it plays the melody.

JONES: So we start by having you sit up nice and tall for me, have you open up your mouth, put it on your bottom lip, close and blow.

KARIS ROSZCZEWSKI: (Playing the clarinet).

JONES: Perfect. Did that feel weird on your lip? Yeah.

NORRIS: Jones makes some minor tweaks with the student's bottom lip. With his fingers on the buttons, Roszczewski blows the air into the instrument.

KARIS: (Playing the clarinet).

JONES: Big difference.

NORRIS: Did that feel differently the second time?

KARIS: Yes, it did. It felt like a vibration more. And I could really hear the music.

NORRIS: Then she wants to try the saxophone.

KARIS: (Playing saxophone).

JONES: Amazing. Have you ever played one of these before?

KARIS: No, but I've seen it on TV.

NORRIS: Even though she got her Kenny G. on, Roszczewski decides she likes the clarinet better because it's shorter and easier to hold. These instrument fittings are the Port Huron Music Center's main marketing strategy. Pete Kruse owns the store. He says the reason kids often get discouraged and drop out of band is because they started on the wrong instrument.

PETE KRUSE: They think they want to play clarinet 'cause mom played clarinet or dad played this or that or they had one of these kicking around in the closet and was going to try to play it. And so we just came up with the idea that if we come in and let all the kids try everything out and guide them to what was going to work best for them, they have a better chance of being successful.

NORRIS: And plenty of students don't even know what their options are, like Aliayna Johnson.

ALIAYNA JOHNSON: I don't know how to say it, but it starts with a T. It has a B in it. Tr...

JONES: Trombone?


JONES: Trombone.

NORRIS: So store employee Matthew Jones grabs a trombone mouthpiece and explains how to buzz.

JONES: And that buzzing is simply this (makes buzzing sound).

ALIAYNA: (Laughter).

JONES: Try that, go (makes buzzing sound).

ALIAYNA: (Makes buzzing sound).

JONES: Yeah.

NORRIS: A few instruments later, she found a match.

JONES: Pinky in the hook there, fingers one, two and three, thumb underneath there. Lick your lips first and blow.

ALIAYNA: (Playing trombone).

JONES: That's excellent.

ALIAYNA: It's cool, though.

JONES: Yep. Move that finger up and down now as you blow.

ALIAYNA: (Playing trombone).

JONES: That is a great sound.


JONES: That's the whole thing right there.

NORRIS: After that, Johnson is pumped.

ALIAYNA: And I got to meet a wonderful person that helped me with a lot of wonderful things.

NORRIS: While Johnson did not go home with an instrument, she's hoping to play the trumpet next year in her sixth grade band. For NPR News, I'm Kyle Norris.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAND MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kyle Norris got her start in radio as a Michigan Radio intern. Her features have appeared on The Environment Report, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The Splendid Table, World Vision Report, Justice Talking, and The Health Show.
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