UC Davis students take part in music mentor internship

For the first time this fall quarter, four UC Davis students in the concert band are interning in the band class at Winters High School and helping the high school students with the music they are learning.

“[Winters] has a small program, a small band and we’re trying to help them grow. If [the band] is more fun and sounds better, then more students will participate,” said UC Davis Concert Band director Pete Nowlen. “[Interns] are in many cases stronger players and so they have more expertise to share.”

Nowlen and the Winters High School Band music director Tania Mannion developed this two-unit internship class after Nowlen invited middle and high school bands from the city of Winters to perform in a concert he had arranged about a year ago. The internship consists of approximately two hours of tutoring at the high school along with a weekly journal entry about their experiences.

After Nowlen’s band members sat in with the high school band at Winters, Mannion said she noticed a change in her students.

“I noticed that when his students were playing, my students could rise to a different level and take [the music] more seriously because of their presence,” Mannion said. “I knew that Pete was very active in outreach to communities that don’t really have the resources for music education, and I wanted to have the college student presence there more often.”

The aspiring musicians at Winters High School do not have a strongly funded music department, making the exposure to college band members all the more important for them. This idea sparked a flame last spring that eventually led to the existing internship program.

Nowlen said that although being a declared music major is not a requirement to be an intern, all interns must be members of the UC Davis Concert Band.

“My goal is to demonstrate to high school students that they should continue to perform in college even if they’re not a music major,” Nowlen said. “This program is great to demonstrate that because a couple of the interns are music majors and a couple are not.”

Every Wednesday, the interns go to the band class for almost two hours, where they play along with the high school students for the first 45 minutes of the band period and tutor as needed.

“I help them if they are struggling with rhythm or how to play a certain note,” said second-year undeclared major Vanessa Lewis, an intern this quarter.

The next part of the period is spent mentoring in small groups of three to six students with an intern based on instrument types.

“[The interns] work with the people that play the same instrument or something similar,” Nowlen said. “They work on improving their general playing technique and learning their music.”

Since Lewis plays a tenor saxophone, she mentors a group of three students also playing reed instruments. Lewis said the kids seem excited to see her and the other interns every week and are very eager to improve their musical skills.

“Ever since elementary school, I have loved playing my instrument and I want to foster the excitement that I had in other kids,” Lewis said. “They are all very friendly and like to joke around, which is good because they are enjoying themselves in band class.”

According to Mannion, this “band buddies” program has been successful so far.

“When these interns come and they kind of reiterate what I [have] said, it validates what I’ve been telling them all the time,” Mannion said. “The interns are very good players and I think having that model for my students gives them a very positive, good role for what they might be aspiring to be in the future.”

Mannion said she has noticed significant improvement in the attitude the kids have towards their instruments and how they are playing as well.

“They are more comfortable with the music they are playing right now and they are learning their major notes,” Lewis said.

Nowlen said that working with Winters High School was natural for many reasons, but mainly because he wants to help the music program at the school grow larger.

“The university should be involved in the community that we reside [in],” Nowlen said. “[Winters] is an area [with higher] need than others. It’s a place where this service is greatly needed and greatly [valued].”

The band is currently practicing for the school’s winter concert on Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. in the Winters Community Center.

Nowlen plans to continue the internship program in the future. Those involved said they hope the high school students will learn that they can pursue music in college as well.

“I would like if [the students] continued with music because it’s something meaningful,” Lewis said. “I guess that makes it sound like a religion, but it kind of feels like that to me. You never know where music can take you.”

RITIKA IYER can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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