Goleta Union School District students perform in a pre-pandemic Spring Band Concert.
Goleta Union School District students perform in a pre-pandemic Spring Band Concert. The soon-to-launch South Coast Youth Band aims to fill the gap left by the loss of the school district band program. (Contributed photo)

In the spring of 2020, nearly 200 students from Goleta Union School District lost their school’s band program because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, leaving students going into junior high school musically unprepared for the next levels of their musical journey.

“In the past, by the time the kids had gone through the elementary program, they were reading music and at a certain level ready to go into junior high,” said Sandy Adams, a former co-director of the GUSD band program. “But because those programs have stopped in the schools, there are very, very few students coming into junior high knowing how to play the instrument, so the junior highs will have to start from scratch basically as a beginner program.

“This will impact the high schools as well. It will change the level of experience of the schools and will probably lower the level of quality of the bands a bit.”

Seeing that gap in music education, Adams and GUSD’s other band co-director, Nancy Mathison, are launching the South Coast Youth Band to provide equitable, consistent access to a band program for all elementary school students in the fourth through sixth grades from Gaviota to Carpinteria.

“If we think of preparing children for these life skills like mathematics, reading — anything they want to do well as an adult — we start them young,” Mathison told Noozhawk. “The same thing is true with music. We let them experience a number of things to let them see what they can really be passionate about, and sometimes it’s just too late to do that in junior high.”

Students in the program will be taught instruments such as the flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and snare drum by professional musicians.

Mathison and Adams received a grant from the Irene F. Anderson Foundation to fully fund the first semester of the South Coast Youth Band, which launches on Jan. 24 and will continue through May 18.

“We were so grateful because the grant means that we can focus on trying to get the word out to students instead of trying to raise money,” Mathison said.

The South Coast Youth Band program also received a grant from its partner the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation, she added.

The student cost for the first semester is $100, and Mathison said she hopes to keep the price that low through future grant funding.

“Our goal is to try and keep this accessible as possible,” she said.

While the program primarily targets students from GUSD and the Hope School District, which feed directly into the Goleta Valley Junior High School and La Colina Junior High School band programs, the South Coast Youth Band will be open to fourth- through sixth-grade students in private, charter and home schools from Gaviota to Carpinteria.

The program will be staffed by a number of professional musicians, and classes will be taught at the Goleta Presbyterian Church, according to Mathison. While classes start the week of Jan. 24, students can come and meet the teachers, ask questions about the instruments, and make their instrument choice on Jan. 19 at Goleta Presbyterian Church from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Mathison said.

Staff from Nick Rail Music will be providing rental instruments to students, and parents may rent instruments and purchase supplies on their own as well.

Goleta Union School District students perform in a pre-pandemic Spring Band Concert.

Goleta Union School District students perform in a pre-pandemic Spring Band Concert. (Contributed photo)

Mathison said the program is also going to try to find instruments for students whose parents can’t afford to rent them, and will offer scholarships to kids on free or reduced lunch programs.

The program will group beginners by instrument, who will have an hour lesson with a specialist player of that instrument, and the intermediate and advanced students will get an hour and a half for band rehearsal, according to Mathison.

The South Coast Youth Band plans to hold two concerts at the end of May to showcase the students’ skills, and next year, the band will be performing in multiple concerts and local parades, Adams said.

“Our plan is to give our spring concert in May at Goleta Valley Junior High and again at La Colina, so the kids can get accustomed to the campus, and it will give them a group at their future junior high,” Mathison added.

Mathison and Adams will serve as co-directors of the new band program. Mathison assumed leadership of the GUSD band program in 2014 and previously taught music at the Santa Barbara Unified School District, Westmont College and her own private studio. Adams has many years of experience teaching woodwinds with GUSD, the Santa Barbara Symphony’s Bravo! and the Nick Rail Band Camp, among others, and served as band director at El Camino and Hollister schools.

Click here to learn more about the South Coast Youth Band.

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at jmartinez-pogue@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.