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Jazz returns to schools… with challenges (commentary)


Submitted by Chuck Reider, Reno Jazz Orchestra

Students are back in school for in-person learning and the music programs have restarted.  The Reno Jazz Orchestra (RJO), in response, has restarted our in-person jazz education programs led by Nichole Heglund, our education coordinator. 

Heglund has a new job with the Washoe County School District as an instructional coach for K-12 music programs for new music teachers. It is a new two-year program with an optional third year. She meets with two to three teachers a day to provide resources and observe and assist in the classroom. 

A lot of teachers are excited about returning to normal, as much of last year hindered bands and choirs from rehearsing indoors. This year, students who play wind instruments use bell covers only, but choirs remain masked. The continuing COVID infections are a challenge as several schools had exclusions in the first couple of weeks.

With that in mind, Heglund and the district are planning for a regular performance season, with festivals and concerts scheduled to be in person. The RJO Mentor Program began again this September.

For ten years we have offered the Mentor Program at no expense to the schools (thank you grantors/donors). This year a record twelve schools requested to participate.  Three are middle schools starting a jazz band this year. 

The program assigns an RJO mentor to work with the band director and school jazz band for eight sessions focusing on jazz feel and performance. The band director can request a mentor that can address specific issues, such as brass or saxophone performance. Our challenge is recruiting enough mentors to visit with all twelve schools. 

We added a jazz workshop three years ago to focus on jazz improvisation. Band directors are notified by email about the workshop and students may sign up for eight Saturday sessions. Here they learn songs by ear—no paper necessary.

Dylan Coleman-Tunstall, our workshop director, works with them on techniques on how to improvise on the selections. This is open to high school and middle school students.  The workshops begin Sept. 25 and end with a capstone performance opening for the RJO at the Good Luck Macbeth theater Nov. 20 and 21. Click here for more details on the workshops.

Jazz in the Schools will be Feb. 12 at University of Nevada, Reno.  This is the program that started all our education efforts. We invite middle school and high school jazz bands to perform on stage at Nightingale Hall, after which a nationally recognized jazz clinician provides feedback on their performances and provide techniques to refine the students jazz performances. 

Our education programs will continue to grow and Heglund has some great ideas to do just that, and I will keep you in the loop.

Chuck Reider is the executive director of the Reno Jazz Orchestra


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