There will be someone new directing the students at the Crestwood Holiday Concert this Thursday. Janelle Decker is the new Director of Bands in the district and is excited to have joined the students and faculty of Crestwood at the start of this school year.
A Summa Cum Laude graduate of Kutztown University, Decker was hired by the Crestwood School District at the end of July and hit the ground running as director of the marching band. In her first week, she had the task of choosing a show and drill for the color guard, and began working with the students in early August to prepare for the upcoming football season. She says that at first, the experience was overwhelming.
“Your schooling kind of goes out the window in a lot of ways,” says Decker. “They don’t really prepare you for all the logistics of running a program. I had to figure things out off the cuff and it was really overwhelming at first.”
Decker relates that it was her own public school music program that inspired her career path. She first became interested in music around the age of seven and took formal piano lessons for four years, but it wasn’t until she joined North Pocono’s Middle School band as a flutist that Decker knew that music would always be a part of her life. She later switched to percussion in high school and, while she says she briefly considered pursuing a medical degree, music was always the stronger calling.
“I thought about being a doctor, but even then I knew I needed to do this as a career and that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I knew I wanted to teach music in some capacity,” remarks Decker.
Decker’s responsibilities include directing the Marching Band, Elementary, High School and Middle School Concert Band, Jazz Band and String Ensemble. She also teaches 5-8th grade instrumental lessons and splits general high school music instruction with Play Choral Director and fellow music teacher, Mary Leo. She credits her and former Band Director and music teacher, Joe Zeigler, as well as CBPA President, Marvianne Witner, her students, and their parents for helping her find her footing and making her feel welcome.
“Everyone has been really great to me,” says Decker. “Mrs. Leo has been superb, I couldn’t have survived without her, and the whole faculty have been really great.”
She continues to say, “The students have been wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for anything more, I walked into a really great group of students, and the energy of their parents is really high.”
Decker and her students finished their first Marching Band season together in early November and immediately moved into preparing for the Holiday Concert this week. Decker says there is something everyone will love in the repertoire, including some old classics, a few medleys and modern takes on some familiar favorites. She explains that audience members can expect a nice mixture of classic and pop tunes, all performed by the middle and high school band, as well as the middle and high school chorus members under the direction of Mary Leo. Decker says that there will also be a series of “twists” from the Jazz Band.
“We have a swing version of a familiar carol and a current pop tune,” notes Decker. “Jazz always has interesting arrangements and the kids are very excited about them.”
While the performances are what naturally garner the most attention in any school’s music program, Decker points out that every day, music students are honing the academic skills found in other classrooms, including math, reading and science, as well as learning aspects of other cultures. She says that all students learn in different ways or are hard wired for different talents, and those talents or learning abilities are not always in traditional academic subjects.
“I’m teaching kids about math all the time,” explains Decker. “Math is incorporated in time signatures, notes and beats. There are multiplication problems and fractions. I teach about fulcrums in percussion grips before they’ve learned that concept and the physics of how air makes sound through a reed and the barrel of a clarinet. We learn Italian and French languages through composition, terminology and lyrics, and communication skills by working together with others.”
Decker also points out that it is important that all students have a way to explore what they are meant to do. Decker herself continues to perform percussion with the Scranton Brass Orchestra and the Reading Pops Orchestra, and plays flute with Remember Jones out of NJ and the Bella Vita Duo.
“Everyone is good at something different” offers Decker. “If I didn’t have music in my life and as a career, I don’t know what I would do. For many students, music is their life.”
Decker’s goals for the program are to grow the music program and hone the skills of the students involved. She is looking forward to competing with the Marching Band next fall as well as competing with the Jazz Band. She says that the Marching Band ended their season with an excellent performance and she is looking forward to taking that energy into next year.
“The students are instinctively musical. They have been performing really well and it has made me feel really good as their director. When the kids are smiling after a performance, those are the moments that make you so proud and makes all the hard work so worth it,” concludes Decker.
Once this week’s performance is over, Decker and her students will have a brief respite over the holidays before preparing for their spring concert. After that, the school year will end and the Marching Band will begin the first of a series of summer camps to get ready for competitions in the fall. They will be performing a show adapted from Phantom of the Opera.
The Crestwood Holiday Concert is this Thursday, December 17 at 7pm in the high school auditorium and is free and open to the public.