By Dave Warner

The Little Falls City School District has been honored with the Best Communities for Music Education designation from The NAMM Foundation for its outstanding commitment to music education. Now in its 25th year, the Best Communities for Music Education designation is awarded to districts that demonstrate outstanding achievement for providing music access and education to all students.

To qualify for the Best Communities designation, the district answered detailed questions about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program, and community music-making programs. Responses were verified by school officials and reviewed by The Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas.

Amanda Grimaldi, one of the music teachers, stated, “It just means that our community supports us. I think it shows with the number of kids that we have in our high school program—it means that their parents have supported them from elementary school all the way up. Especially in the band program where they’re renting instruments, practicing, and sticking with that for seven or more years.”

“As a parent now of a beginner band student, I know how much work it is for parents.”

She continued, “I think we’re lucky. You don’t see this in every school where the music department is cohesive. All four of us are not only colleagues but friends.”

Grimaldi said that even though two of the teachers are at Benton Hall, they all go up or down to help with musical productions being put on. “I think that makes a big difference.”

She also said that the school is small enough so that they are really able to get to know the kids. “I love being able to teach them from sixth grade to twelfth. Even kids who don’t stick with it all the way, I’ve known them since they were ten or eleven years old.”

For her, the most gratifying part of the job is “When a kid is successful, or they consider themselves successful. That’s when I’m most gratified.”

Several of the music students wanted to comment on the program:

  • Jordan Lampack: “I love music. I started out in the chorus in second grade. I love it so much. It creates such a good community, and it’s just so much fun hearing what we create with just a sheet of music.”
    She said that she wants to continue singing in college and perform onstage. “I love the program here so much. They create a wonderful environment, and they’re all so accepting. It really is a family here.”
  • Galen Straney: Is in both chorus and band and started with the band in fourth grade. “I always liked to sing when I was younger. I felt like when I got to sixth grade, I wanted to do more with that, so I started chorus.”
    He was also involved in the musical Beauty and the Beast. “That showed me that there was a little bit more than what just band and chorus brings. It showed me a whole different world.”
    When asked about the program, he said it was fantastic. “I’m not just saying that because I’ve been here. But, seeing other programs, compared to ours, I feel like we’re a little higher up. We have that extra step because of our teachers, who are fantastic. They like to push us and force us to do things that we might not want to do, but in the end, it’s a great thing.”
    Straney said that he wants to go into music education because the teachers are a great inspiration to him. He looks at them and says, “Yeah, I could do that and it looks fun.”
    He also said that he’d like to help other kids who want to do more with music. “Maybe be a vocal coach.”
  • Lucy Johns: “I’ve been in chorus and band as long as I can remember. When I was looking into what I wanted to major in in college, I looked into a couple of music education programs. I love working with kids, and it just fits together.”
    When asked about the Little Falls program, she said, “They’re just the best music teachers I could ask for. They just want us to get better and help us go on whatever path we want to, especially if it’s music. With Galen and I, they’re trying to get us the resources we need to get as far as we can.”
    She said that she gets voice lessons on her own time. “I like doing that because I really hear my improvement. Then coming back and being able to demonstrate those skills for my music teachers – it’s really rewarding.”
    The highlight of the year? “Well, my part in the musical didn’t turn out the way it was in my mind, but it was still a really fun time. Every year, the musical is an exciting part of the year.”
  • Maggie Rauch: “I’ve been playing trombone since fourth grade. I’ve been in chorus since fifth grade but transferred here in tenth grade.”
    When asked about the program, Rauch said it’s pretty laid back. “It’s kinda of like whatever you want to do, they’ll let you do.”
    “The highlight of the year was definitely when we played through the show the first time and actually got stuff right.”
    Rauch wants to be in a jazz band during college and then community bands after that. “I’m just trying to keep it as alive as possible. Trombone has always been such a huge part of my life, and I plan to keep it that way.”
  • Rachel Thomas: “My family has always been very musical. My uncle went to Nashville and played in bands down there. So, I grew up with the country music aspect, and I was able to join the chorus because I loved singing. I joined the band in sixth grade. Being in the drama club and being on stage heightened my music experience.”
    This year, there has been a lot, but the musical stands out for her. “Just doing a completely different show than we’ve done in the past with way more dancing – none of us are dancers.”
    She said that it seems like a lot of middle school students are stepping up to continue the legacy just when they’re losing so many seniors this year. “No matter what, the music in Little Falls is going to be great after we graduate.”
    Thomas is going to school to study history, but she wants to be involved in cabaret. She’s also learning guitar right now. “I’m definitely going to keep going with music, even though that’s not what I’m solely focusing on.”
    “I feel like the teachers take so much pride and time with the program. I know that none of us are easy sometimes – I know they want to pull their hair out, but they really do just sit and talk and figure out how they can make it better. Every few years, you lose a big group of seniors, which is very detrimental to the program, but just seeing them tirelessly working on the band, chorus, and drama club is just amazing to watch. So I know the future of these programs is going to be very bright once we’re gone.”
  • Marianne Douglas: “When I was younger, I always did things like dance. It was always just a part of me – something that interested me. I’m in chorus, band, and drama club.”
    Drama Club has been the highlight, and she said, “When I was younger, I always struggled with stage fright, but the people in drama club have no pressure. Because of that, I was really able to come out of my shell. I wasn’t nervous. I could just go up there and enjoy myself. Being able to be a lead last year and this year and having it just be an enjoyable moment for me was special.”
    She said the teachers are the most important part of the program. “They care about you past the classroom. Over the years I’ve just grown so close to them. They make the environment fun but also very professional. They have a lot of guidance to give, but they also do that in a very fun and engaging way.”
    Douglas said, “I really want to keep singing. It’s one of the things that I think I’m good at, but I also enjoy doing it so much. I definitely want to keep doing it as a hobby and maybe in college.”

The Little Falls Music Department has a significant number of performances scheduled for May and June:

  • 5/21/2024 – MS Spring Concert, 6th Grade at 6:00, 7th/8th Grade at 7:00, HS Auditorium.
  • 5/22/2024 – Beginner Band/4th and 5th Grade Chorus Concert, 6:00, BHA Auditorium.
  • 5/30/2024 –  3rd Grade Chorus/Cadet Band Concert, 6:00, BHA Auditorium.
  • 6/5/2024 –  AYV Concert, Albany
  • 6/10/2024 – NYSSMA/Piano Recital, 6:00, BHA Auditorium.

Also, fifty students (Grades 5-12) performed at the NYSSMA Solo Festival this past weekend at Central Valley Academy.

There are more than 100 students in the program at the high school level and more than 115 in the middle school grades.