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Fine-tuning fifth-grade music: students to receive ukuleles

Courtesy photo. Chelsea School District music teachers prepped and tuned 160 new ukuleles for distribution to fifth-grade students. The district purchased the ukuleles in three different colors from Marshall Music Company, based in Lansing.

By Crystal Hayduk

Ukuleles are known for being easy to play, highly portable, and even stress-relieving.

This fall, Chelsea School District (CSD) fifth graders will have these fun instruments to enhance their music education and appreciation.

Students typically make the momentous decision to pursue choir, band, or orchestra early in fifth grade. But late last spring, music department faculty knew they would have to adapt the program this year in light of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

Katy Steklac, director of bands at South Meadows Elementary School and Beach Middle School, said the music teachers decided to postpone the traditional launch of ensemble instruction for a variety of reasons. “The most significant reason is that learning an instrument is a very physical activity, and it would be tough for the instructional staff to help students adjust without being together in the same room,” she said.

With the district’s current plans that include remote learning followed by hybrid phased-in learning, as well as various state requirements during in-person instruction, ukuleles seemed to be the best solution. Every student can have their own instrument that is easy to clean, and ukuleles can be played while wearing a mask. “We can still prepare them for beginning ensemble instruction through the ukuleles,” Steklac said.

Jeff Young, a representative at Marshall Music Company in Lansing, said CSD used a school bidding process to cover the cost of 160 ukuleles, which are “… a great choice at this point with the pandemic.”

The resurgence in popularity of ukuleles that began seven or eight years ago hasn’t waned, according to Young, a fact that music teachers are counting on to continue. Steklac said the ukuleles will be used with younger students after the pandemic.

“When COVID-19 conditions improve, and we are back for face-to-face instruction on a more normal schedule, we will begin to introduce instruments and singing like we normally would do at the beginning of fifth grade,” she said.

But until then, Steklac and the other music department teachers— Nathan Peters, South Meadows and Beach Middle School orchestra director; Alison Roberts, high school band director; and Phillip Sylvester, high school orchestra director—will be strumming and picking together with their students.   

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