Tupelo Middle School is located in the heart of the King of Rock and Roll’s hometown, so it’s only fitting that the school is helping to nurture the next generation of rock stars.
After tryouts last week, the school’s new rock band class now meets during first period each day on the Civic Auditorium stage. This is where the seven students in the class hone their skills on guitar, piano, bass guitar and drums.
Students began to learn song structure by playing along to “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash. Eventually, they will play songs like these themselves and perform them in front of a live audience.
Tupelo Middle School principal Mark Enis loves music and said his goal is to provide more opportunities for seventh and eighth graders who are passionate about music.
He got the idea for a TMS rock band last year after seeing a performance by Tupelo High School instrumental band Structure, who plays alongside the THS choir. Enis said he knew many Structure students, and it inspired him to offer a similar opportunity to TMS.
“From an academic point of view, it is sometimes difficult for these children,” said Enis. “And we want to go way beyond the curriculum, the core subjects, and make sure we’re giving these students an opportunity to really participate in a choice they value.”
Tracy Smithey, director of THS Structure and Foundations groups, now spends her mornings at Tupelo Middle teaching the rock band.
While middle school students can take music lessons and learn an instrument, Smithey said, most don’t have the opportunity to play in a rock band. This class will change that.
Instruments and equipment for the rock band will be provided by the school as part of the district fine arts budget. Items purchased include drums, microphones, Fender guitars, bass guitars and a PA system.
Kit Stafford, director of fine arts for TPSD, said the district is investing about $32,000 in the class with plans to continue supporting the program and helping it grow.
“Ms. Smithey’s rock band class will undoubtedly teach music and technique that these students can enjoy for a lifetime,” Stafford said, adding that it will teach teamwork and resilience and build resilience. confidence in a way that only the arts can do.
In recent years, Tupelo has made great strides in advancing its fine arts programs across the district, beginning in early 2021 with the announcement that it would invest $440,000 in the arts.
According to Stafford, the addition of Tupelo Middle School’s rock band class further supports this goal. The mission, she said, is to create a “world-class” arts program.
“Our administration and our school board have made the arts a priority and committed to fully funding it,” Stafford said. “TPSD has made significant purchases of fine art over the past two years. The rock band’s purchases are just a continuation of this significant investment in the fine arts.
Students in the class already have a basic knowledge of their instruments and they will continue to study the instruments of their choice while learning to play on a structural level with the band.
Despite the name of the program, Smithey plans to expose her students to various genres of music, not just rock.
“I also like to include a bit of country or anything modern, contemporary, a bit of jazz and blues so they get experience in all of those things,” Smithey said. “Because by themselves they will only do what they like.”
She hopes to inspire confidence in her students and help them realize the value of their musical abilities.
Having lessons on an auditorium stage, she said, will help calm their nerves when it comes time to perform.
“If you’re constantly looking at that audience, what looks like an audience, you’re not afraid of them when it comes time to play,” Smithey said.
Some members, like seventh grader William Chapman, are already comfortable on stage. He is also a member of the orchestra, where he plays the viola. He’s only been playing bass guitar for a few months, but he has a familiarity with music that already excites him to play with the rock band when the time comes.
Madison Bailey, a seventh grader, has been playing the piano for about a year but is excited to improve her skills as part of the rock band class.
She has already played in piano recitals and does not hesitate to be on stage.
“Class is fun,” Bailey said. “I can play the piano for everyone. And my dream is to be on America’s Got Talent.
Without a doubt, when the spotlight shines on Bailey and her bandmates and their music fills the Tupelo Civic Auditorium, that dream will seem close enough to be heard.