Let’s hear it for the band - and orchestra too!

A conversation with band teacher Ilse Reardon

Bob Wooley
Posted 9/22/21

Football, soccer — a lot of fall school activities get a lot of press coverage every year while another pursuit that requires practice, dedication, teamwork and a lot of hard work goes relatively …

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Let’s hear it for the band - and orchestra too!

A conversation with band teacher Ilse Reardon


Football, soccer — a lot of fall school activities get a lot of press coverage every year while another pursuit that requires practice, dedication, teamwork and a lot of hard work goes relatively unnoticed — but not anymore.

Band kids, orchestra kids and proud, patient parents rejoice. You are finally getting some of that local paper fall coverage love you so richly deserve.

Each fall a brand-new group of kids becomes eligible to participate in a rite of passage that puts smiles on faces young and old alike — playing in the school band. 

The sense of wonder that takes over a child’s imagination as they are introduced to the worlds of brass, woodwinds, strings and percussion is something knows well.

As a music teacher in Jeffco, she’s gotten a first-hand look at it every fall for the last 14 years. But for Reardon, like others who hear the call, the magic of those moments started years before she started teaching.

“I grew up in Wheat Ridge. My parents have lived here since the 1960s. I went to Prospect Valley, Everitt and Wheat Ridge High School,” she says. “I was really excited for an instrument. I was the kid who came home saying I don’t even care what I play, I just want to play something!”

She said once she got signed up to play, she was all in. And by seventh grade she knew she wanted to make music her life’s work.

And work it is. Reardon is based out of Everitt, but currently teaches music at nine Jeffco public schools, teaching two 40-minute classes at each, a few times per week.

“We just sort of roll in and teach and roll out and go to the next place,” she says. “It takes a while to get used to. It’s very physical. I’m exhausted by the end of the day.”

Reardon says the exhaustion is well worth it because of the energy the kids put into the music and what the music gives them in return — and it’s not all in the ears.

“There’s a lot of brain research out there that shows learning how to play an instrument really impacts the development of the brain especially at the age we start the kids at in Jeffco,” she says. “During that adolescent stage, playing an instrument is one of three activities that really grows your brain. Reading is another. And so is being active, running around.”

Reardon says playing an instrument is one of the few activities children do during the day that actually uses both sides of their brain at the same time and helps develop pathways in the brain.

“I think the information that stuck out to me the most, is that the part of your brain that processes sounds and speech grows by more than 120% larger than somebody who doesn’t play an instrument.”

In fact, studies show that playing an instrument, particularly at a young age, brings a wealth of benefits to the musician.

According to an article in Inc. Magazine, in a University of Montreal study, lead researcher Simon Landry found that musicians have faster auditory, tactile, and audio-tactile reaction times. The study also showed musicians are better at integrating inputs from different senses.

Reardon says students who play an instrument also learn a sense of discipline through practice and teamwork.

“One of the things I tell the kids all of the time is that ‘you not practicing or paying attention in any other class doesn’t really impact anybody else. But in band, orchestra and choir, if you don’t practice, it impacts the entire group and we can’t move on without you,’” she says.

She says she tries to communicate the point that everything the band does, it does together — they begin together and end together. She thinks the group dynamic is one of the most important aspects of learning to play in the band.

“In marching band you’re going to get this sense of team spirit, and in concert band you’ll get some of that too, but in different degrees of intensity.”

In addition to brain development and teamwork, Reardon says there’s the obvious benefit of being creative and the tremendous outlet playing an instrument gives children for getting their emotions out — connecting with each other in a way that’s different and unique.

“You get to be artistic and creative and express things that you can’t always express with words,” she says. 

Reardon and Orchestra Teacher, Beth Letendre, take all of the band and orchestra instruments to each of the nine schools where they teach, and let the kids see them up close. They play a tune on each one, to let the budding musicians hear what they sound like.

But they don’t encourage students to choose one instrument over another. 

Reardon says the best thing to do is let children choose an instrument they have a bit of aptitude for and something they’ll want to practice with.

“We try to give students an opportunity to try things out because the instrument personality thing — that’s a real thing,” she says. “There is a personality type that’s attracted to each type of instrument, I think.”

Before the pandemic, Reardon says there was an easy, sanitary way for her to let students try instruments out before they had to choose, but like almost everything else, that’s been more difficult in a post-COVID world. 

Her voice lights up when she speaks about growth the young musicians achieve during the first year of playing. She says parents are amazed at progress made between the first concert typically held in November and the final performance of the year.

This year’s concert schedule is still up in the air because of the pandemic, but if you’re a family member of a young Coltrane, Ellington or YoYo Ma, try to make those shows if you can. he smiles after a rousing, barely distinguishable few bars of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star are worth a thousand words.

Jeffco schools, band, Ilse Reardon, music education


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