It was a first for the Roxborough High School band.
On Tuesday night, band members shared the stage with a choir, pianists and solo singers for the school’s annual Holiday Musical Showcase. They lifted holiday spirits with traditional Christmas classics like ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree’ and ‘The Christmas Song.’
Dozens of students were decked out in Santa hats and reindeer antlers during the show.
Musical director, Ronald Coles says solos are the students’ favorite part because it offers them an outlet for creativity–and after nearly 20 solo acts—the crowd was riled up for the final show.
“Many of these kids have never performed in front of anyone,” said Coles, adding that the band has only been practicing for 12 weeks. Coles joined his students on the stage as lead trumpet during the show. He says that hearing each other keeps everyone on track. “They’re still learning so its good to watch me play sometimes as an example,” he said adding that most bands start in middle school.
Students held up their shiny brass instruments with pride in front of the crowd full of parents and family while the horn section started up favorites like ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas.’
But the entire concert wouldn’t have been possible two years ago, says Cole. Just last spring, more than $28,000 worth of musical instruments were purchased by the Philadelphia School District, thanks to Principal Stephen Brandt, a Roxborough High School Alum. The music program is free for students, and falls under a rostered class.
“They wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play an instrument before, this allows them to read, play, and perform music–a whole new skill for themselves, it’s really cool,” he said.
Coles says Roxborough is the only public school in Philadelphia to even offer piano classes and parents say that just having the option makes a difference.
“I was really amazed how talented each individual was, especially piano,” said Mt. Airy resident Marshall Kelly. He beamed watching his son, Marqui Kelly, now in tenth grade play baritone clarinet. And it sounds like Marqui will continue next year. “He’s really attached to it,” added Kelly, who says that the concert was a metaphor for teachers that care. “No one tried to take center stage, they all worked as a group and supported each other–I loved it,” he said.
During a newly implemented program, local partnerships with Temple University and Chestnut Hill College provided student teachers at the high school with opportunities for private lessons to help students foster their musical talents and encourage college options. Within the past year, Roxborough High started an honors program and offers Advanced Placement classes allowing students to acquire college credits during high school. This fall, the high school was removed from the District’s “persistently dangerous” school list and supporters say it will only get better with time.