Sweet Home school district turning up the volume on band program

By Sarah Brown
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

School band programs across the country have been lullabied to sleep for decades as economic hardships forced budget cuts in the education system, but the Sweet Home School District wants to bring harmony back to the local program.

Longtime music and English teacher Lori Tuter stepped into the high school’s band instructor role this year and is keeper of the vision to revitalize what used to be a foundational educational experience, but she’ll need the community’s help to make it a reality.

Tuter, a SHHS graduate, said she was teaching in Prineville when the district “gutted” the arts and cut her position in 2009 after an economic collapse. Since then, a variety of obstacles – statewide, locally, within families, and the worldwide pandemic – have made it difficult to return to a melodic balance, she said.

“Coming back from that has been a struggle,” Tuter said. “I’m hoping to inspire the community, and maybe that will inspire change within the education system. What the program really needs is an influx of donated musical instruments such as clarinets, flutes, oboes, french horns, trumpets and saxophones. While budgetary constraints make it hard to acquire instruments, two music stores have closed in recent years, making access to instruments even more difficult.”

As such, Tuter is asking the community to donate their packed-away instruments that are just gathering dust in a closet or attic. Those instruments, she said, could really impact the life of a student.

“There’s so much research on the social and emotional benefit of music,” Tuter said. “Coming out of COVID and distance learning, they’re starving for that. Music is so natural to kids, whether they’re listening to it or performing it.”

While some studies question the efficacy of music to enhance learning, research tends to agree music provides numerous benefits.

“It builds confidence, self-esteem, and self-discipline,” Tuter said. “It improves mood and decreases stress, pain and anxiety.”

However, there are only a handful of instruments available, and the rest must be purchased or rented out by parents.

“Students living in poverty, they have no opportunity,” Tuter pointed out.

High school librarian Jill Wilson grew up in the district’s band program for six years and is “very excited” to see the district trying to revive it.

“This community used to support them massively,” Wilson said. “I remember walking in the Christmas parade and playing ‘Jingle Bells’ when I was in, like, sixth grade.”

She recalled the excitement and energy of playing at school games and was surprised to see how well students received a Christmas performance in the school foyer last year. Inserting the band back into school functions and community events is at the top of Tuter’s priorities by being “more present” at games, assemblies and parades, and throughout the community, with a crescendo holiday performance at Wiley Creek Community near the end of the year.

“This isn’t a program where we’re expecting them to practice five hours a night and go to college for music,” Wilson said. “If they want to do that, that’s fantastic; we’ll help set them up for that success. But if they want to just have some fun, we want to invite more kiddos to come and do it.”

Tuter believes it’s “absolutely” possible for the musical arts to once again gain a stronghold in Sweet Home.

“The more people I talk to, the support is widespread,” she said. “It’s just a matter of getting it out there. They want to help, but they have to see us to know that we’re there.”

Last week, Tuter held a four-day band camp for her students.

“The band camp was a prelude to the year,” she said. “Stay tuned for the grand finale.”