DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — With his hands gripped around the valves of a shiny trumpet that he held to his puckered lips, David Roberts belted out the “Colonel Bogey March.”
On cue, six Foxcroft Academy student musicians, who were gathered around the Dover-Foxcroft man last week, raised their brass instruments and joined in. All appeared to enjoy jamming with the older musician, but it was the latter who was in his glory.
“I love playing with these guys,” Roberts, 56, said this week. “It gives me the sense of giving something back to the school that gave me a good foundation in music.”
Roberts is among a half-dozen or so local musicians who are spending time mentoring band students and want-to-be musicians. In turn, the mentored high school students carry on the tradition by mentoring middle school students.
The program was the brainchild of Shane Ellis, FA music instructor, who recognized that private lessons outside of the school are generally expensive and in some instances require a lengthy drive to studios.
“Any veteran music teacher will tell you that the one driving force behind having a successful music program is private instruction,” Ellis said Wednesday. “Shortly after starting the mentorship program, I saw an increased level of musicianship, even from those not involved in the program. He said that over a two-year period, his band went from playing easy music to medium and advanced music,” all thanks to the help from mentors.
While the adult mentors receive a $300 stipend provided by the FA Music Boosters, it truly doesn’t cover the amount of time the mentors give or the gasoline used beyond their commitment, according to Ellis.
Some like Roberts can be found at the school several nights a week providing free one-on-one instruction to a student or working two hours each week with a select ensemble.
The adult mentor generally does much more than is required of them and will continue to mentor the high school student without payment after the semester has ended, Ellis said. The program and the extended help improves the students drive and performance, he said.
“Successfully performing challenging music gets the students more excited about playing music; and, in the days of iPods, Facebook, and Guitar Hero, it is certainly becoming harder to keep students interested in learning how to play an instrument well.”
Despite these distractions, students are enjoying their participation in the band, and are finding the mentors love of music contagious.
“It’s fun,” senior Tom Fearon said Thursday, of working with Roberts. “We do learn a lot. Dave is different from some of the other adults because he focuses on the basics and the foundation of music.”
Corey Thompson, a freshman, agreed with Fearon. “I’ve learned something new every time I come here,” he said.
“Besides the increased musicianship amongst everyone involved, friendships are established between multiple generations of musicians,” Ellis said. The role-modeling that goes on within the program is “wonderful to see,” he said, particularly between the high and middle school students.
Without the talent of local musicians, Ellis said the program would not be the success that it is. To share that success, the students will entertain the public at a performance on Feb. 12. The percussion ensemble and the dance class instructed by Beth Weatherbee will perform at a free concert at Center Theatre.
No one is more eager to showcase the talents of the students he mentored than Roberts.
“These kids have given up nights in front of television, hours in front of Xboxes to learn a skill they can enjoy for the rest of their lives and hopefully pass on to our next generation,” Roberts said.