Wood Oaks orchestra completes another big season
Members of Wood Oaks Junior High School's award-winning orchestra pose with their instruments. Compliments\Wood Oaks Junior High Schools
Updated: July 29, 2012 6:02AM
Northbrook’s Wood Oaks Junior High School may be one of the smallest schools in District 27, but what it lacks in student numbers, it makes up in music awards.
Wayne Gordon, who leads the band, said it took a decade to build the program to its present strength, but was well worth the effort.
“I was hired in the summer of 2001 and I was to co-teach my very first year with Carol Scattergood. She had been diagnosed with colon cancer several years before and was quite ill. Unfortunately, Carol died in July that summer,” Gordon said.
The program, which had flourished a decade before that, suffered because of Scattergood’s absences and a lot of students became disenchanted, Gordon said. So when he started, there were only 27 students in band.
Now in 2012, Gordon can look back at the changes that helped put the program back together — and on top.
“We have only about 1,200 in the whole district. Our junior high building has about 420 students, so we’re pulling from a relatively small group of kids to form a chorus that is quite large, usually around 100 students; an orchestra that is usually 50 students; and a band program that has 55 to 75,” Gordon said.
First, he combined the sixth grade band and the seventh and eighth group. Then, he created a place for students whose playing was beyond recreational.
“I wanted them to be able to get literature at a high level, which was more mature and sophisticated, and give them additional opportunities to play. That’s when we created the wind ensemble,” Gordon said.
And with that, the talented pool of students responded. This year, the Wood Oaks Orchestra received a superior “Division 1” rating at the Illinois Grade School Music Association contest April 28 — the sixth time in seven years. And members of the Wood Oaks Wind Ensemble were chosen to participate in the 2012 Illinois SuperState Concert Band Festival at the University of Illinois in Champaign May 4 and May 5 — the fourth time in the past six years. The group also took honors in 2007, 2009 and 2011.
All the band students now rehearse twice a week during the school day. They also practice once a week when they are pulled out of class for small group lessons. The wind ensemble, in addition to being part of the symphonic band, meets two days before school. The jazz band meets once a week.
“The wind ensemble kids are playing with me literally five times a week in one group or another for a lesson, and in addition, many of our kids take private lessons. Why? Part of it is the tradition, where younger kids see older kids honored and praised for their efforts and work,” Gordon said.
“So even though we are one of the smallest middle schools in our area, we have one of the highest number of kids participating from a relatively small population in the school.
“The school’s front hall is full of plaques. There is one case for the whole school and one of equal size just for the music department.
Some 14-year-old eighth-graders talked about why they like the music program.
Alec Mawrence who plays the tuba, trumpet and piano, is so enthused about music that he would like to make it a career, perhaps as a composer or a conductor.
“Mr. Gordon says ‘Don’t be average!” and because he expects us to be great, we practice hard,” Mawrence said.
Christi Sayer, who plays the cello, likes music so much she might want to teach it.
“I love how, as part of the orchestra, we all play our parts and when they all come together it’s awesome,” she said.
“Playing music is like being a member of a sports team,” said Jake Gordon, who plays sax. “There is a sense of achievement and it’s very rewarding.”