Renton schools are alive with the sound of music

April 4, 2013

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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Friends of Renton Schools raise money to support programs

Photos by Christina Corrales-Toy Above, Laura Thompson, McKnight Middle School choir teacher, leads the seventh-grade choir through a March 21 practice. Below, members of the Hazen High School jazz band practice March 13.

Photos by Christina Corrales-Toy
Above, Laura Thompson, McKnight Middle School choir teacher, leads the seventh-grade choir through a March 21 practice. Below, members of the Hazen High School jazz band practice March 13.

Every day during fifth period, 86 Hazen High School students sit in a crowded music room, arranged neatly in rows, with an almost equal population of boys and girls.

They are all members of the school’s concert choir, and for an hour each day, they get the opportunity to immerse themselves in song.

“I love fifth period because I get to come to this class,” Hazen senior Dale Schrock said. “In all the other classes, you’re learning something, but in this class, you’re making something, and it’s a beautiful product.”

Passion for Hazen’s choir programs is at an all-time high, as evidenced by the high student turnout, many of which are boys. It isn’t generally easy to coax boys to join their high school choir, but Hazen music teacher Josh Viles said he doesn’t have to try hard at all to get them to join the class.

“The kids are just ready to go,” Viles said. “There’s just an enthusiasm and energy behind the whole music department, in general.”

Hazen offers a full lineup of music programs with band, orchestra, choir, guitar and piano classes.

“Hazen is a great place and has great kids, with a huge base of talent and people who are there willing to do everything they can to be the best singers, or best band members,” said Brody Graybeal, a Hazen senior, and a member of the concert choir.

The school’s music department does not lack for passion or enthusiasm, but it is short on funding to buy basic essentials, Viles said. He has just a $500 budget to cover expenses for his choir, guitar and piano classes.

“Just getting sheet music into the kids’ hands is difficult,” he said. “The average piece of music costs $1.80 for one copy. Do the math. If I buy 86 copies of just one thing, that’s a good chunk of my budget.”

Hazen senior Griffin Lindbeck, also a member of the concert choir, agreed that funding for music seems to come up short.

“We’re one of the most underfunded departments in the whole school, but we’re one of the most motivated and most successful departments,” he said. “We try really hard, but we have to basically work with what we’ve got, which is very minimal.”

That’s why, during the month of March, the Friends of the Renton Schools worked to raise funds for district music programs. The goal was to raise $50,000 to provide money directly to the programs to buy and repair instruments and purchase sheet music.

That money could go a long way at McKnight Middle School, where longtime band teacher Dave Niimi must make the most out of instruments that are a little worse for wear.

“Some of these instruments are 1960’s vintage, and it’s really important for us that students have an opportunity to play them so that we get a representative sound,” he said.

A pair of tubas, in particular, showed years of use, with dents spotted all across the instruments.

McKnight orchestra teacher Sharon Olsen and choir teacher Laura Thompson could both use materials as well. From sheet music and performance attire, to instrument repair or replacement, every little bit can help, they said.

“Unfortunately, not many people have access to music, because it costs so much money for instruments and private lessons,” Olsen said. “So, to provide that in the school, what we’re saying is that music is, and should be, for everyone.”

Thompson added that the value of music education goes far beyond the skill of simply learning an instrument.

“We’re trying to develop kids that are well-rounded, and music is one of those things that, now that standardized testing is such a focus, it kind of goes by the wayside,” she said. “It helps the kids academically and it helps them to feel connected to the school community.”


Get involved

The Friends of Renton Schools collected money for district music programs through a special ‘March is Music Month’ promotion. Since it’s no longer March, the group will not actively campaign for music program funds as it turns its focus to the April benefit breakfast. However, those interested in giving can do so at the Friends of Renton Schools’ website,

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One Response to “Renton schools are alive with the sound of music”

  1. March is music month for Renton Schools : Newcastle News – News , Sports, Classifieds in Newcastle, WA on March 12th, 2014 9:01 am

    […] why local music programs could use a helping hand in this Newcastle News feature from […]

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