Bands of Stettler schools have yet again performed superbly in this year’s Stettler and District Music Festival, amazing not only audiences but also adjudicators.
Grade 6 band got an A+, Grade 7-8 Band received and the High School Band was bestowed with “Honors” by judges of this year’s festival.
The results show that the spectacular awards the Stettler bands have been winning in regional, national and international events over the years are not mere coincidences.
There is a factor of continuity and stability behind them and that factor is Eric Rahn, Wm. E Hay’s sole band teacher.
Speaking in his music room at the Stettler Middle School, Rahn gives the impression of a man content with what he is doing.
“This is my 18th year of teaching in Stettler. When I started, they had a Grade 5 to Grade 9 band program and then Mr. McDavid (former principal of Wm. E. Hay) let me try to start a high school program,” said Rahn, explaining how the band program expanded over his years to encompass all middle school and high school classes.
“We started to meet outside the school time, as early as 7:30 in the morning Wednesdays and Fridays and that later became the high school program.”
“Now I teach band from Grade 6 all the way to Grade 12.”
Born in Edmonton, Rahn says he took up music education as a career upon the suggestion of his piano teacher, who could detect the talent for teaching in his personality.
“I am glad that I took that advice,” says Rahn.
“I came to Stettler for my first teaching assignment and they couldn’t get rid of me, yet.”
“My main instrument is piano, but I can play and teach all band instruments except for strings, like cello and violin” said Rahn when asked how he can singlehandedly create a band within just a few months from a group of kids who have never played any instruments before.
“I cannot play public solos with each and every one these instruments, but I can teach how to play them.”
Interestingly enough, for Rahn, the awards won in international or national competitions or events are not the main source of satisfaction.
“Just having kids who have now graduated but still playing even just for fun,” is what he sees as biggest achievement.
“Just having instilled the love of music in their minds always makes me smile.”
“Awards and recognitions are nice, too, but what is really nice to see that some of the stuff that you do lasts.”
And the way Rahn teaches music goes a long way to explain why he can get the satisfaction not from awards but from the durability of the sense of music in his students’ lives:
“First they learn the notes and then the music, then they listen to each other to figure out what kind of story they are telling with each piece. So they clearly have an idea of what the story is in order to better the music that comes across.”
Still, the question of how so many students can learn so much in such limited number of class hours looks impossible to answer for an outsider.
Rahn agrees that it is a challenge but 18 years of teaching experience has clearly established some patterns that allow him to overcome the difficulties.
“You focus on one thing, make sure that you achieve that and then move on to another and you do that in every rehearsal.”
Teaching different sizes of bands also means that he has to pick and choose his priorities separately for each group he takes on.
Then there is the inescapable problem of differences in the way the kids learn their music, some grasp the essence of it far faster than others.
As with all other learning processes, Rahn says he relies on the peer communication in such situations, allowing fast learners to share their information with the slower ones.
“That is also part of being a good musician, that is sharing what you know with others.”
Rahn believes the opportunity of taking his bands to various national and international competitions is precious.
“The trips we do are very satisfying and very important as they show the kids that there is a whole world out there and that if you are musician in Stettler or a musician in New York or San Francisco or wherever, that language is the same, universal language.”
But overall, Rahn is gratified for doing what he likes to.
“As long as I am enjoying it and as long as the kids are enjoying it, I think we are achieving in what we are doing.”