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Music to their ears: Music teacher’s morning serenades welcome Whately Elementary students

  • Music Teacher Steve Damon plays the saxophone as students arrive at Whately Elementary School early Wednesday morning. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Music Teacher Steve Damon plays the saxophone as students arrive at Whately Elementary School early Wednesday morning. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Music Teacher Steve Damon plays the saxophone as students arrive at Whately Elementary School early Wednesday morning. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Music Teacher Steve Damon plays the saxophone as students arrive at Whately Elementary School early Wednesday morning. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo



Recorder Staff
Friday, November 17, 2017

WHATELY — Bright notes from an alto saxophone drifted on a crisp breeze early Wednesday, over the low rumble of two school buses idling outside Whately Elementary School, as bundled young students skipped down the sidewalk to morning classes.

Seated at a picnic table beside the front door, music teacher Steve Damon finished playing “Fly Me to the Moon,” turned a page of sheet music, and started another song. Soon, a small crowd of children and parents gathered.

“He’s already three or four songs in — this is the first set,” said Principal Peter Crisafulli, standing at the door greeting students.

Every Wednesday morning for about four years, since becoming a music teacher at the school on Long Plain Road, Damon has serenaded children on their way into school.

“It’s not a recording. It’s live music, someone playing for them,” said Damon, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music education and can play “any brass and wind instrument at a pretty decent level.”

“That’s what I want them to be able to do in 20 years. When they hold their newborn, I want them to be able to sing a lullaby. And if I’m not going to show them what a mellophone sounds like (a small brass wind instrument used in marching band), then no one is,” he said.

Experienced music teacher

Damon lives in Gill, and has taught music in public and private schools throughout Franklin County since 1993.

In addition to Whately, he also teaches music at an elementary school in Guilford, Vt., and owns A Natural Music School, where he gives music lessons to home-schooled, public and private school children, and adults.

His wife, Joyana, is a music teacher in Vermont.

Damon has been performing personal concerts for his students since becoming a teacher, in classrooms and occasionally in the cafeteria during lunchtime. He first started serenading students outside in the morning during a first day of work at another elementary school.

“I didn’t have class for a while, and I got antsy. It was a nice summer’s day,” Damon said, remembering how he played outside and “everyone thought it was wonderful. I was trying to calm myself down.”

Damon continues the practice because he believes in leading by example, and appreciates the power of music.

“When they graduate from high school, I want them to know they can set up a chair and play anywhere. Or play for their kids, or get together 50 friends,” Damon said.

Crisafulli noted Damon’s routine helps create positive “rituals and routines” that “help students feel safe and secure and connected to their school and the adults who take care of them all day.”

Playing instruments outside is also a chance to interact with parents and faculty Damon otherwise might not routinely see. He only teaches in Whately once a week.

Recently, Damon invited professional flutist Zara Lawler and percussionist Paul Fadoul to teach special music lessons at the school through a connection he made with Lawler’s sister, a Whately Elementary School parent, whom he met while performing on a Wednesday morning.

The duo, known as Lawler + Fadoul, led students from Union 38 schools in engaging and lighthearted hands-on lessons.

A fun learning environment

Inside his classrooms, Damon takes a similar approach to music education. He tries to make learning fun.

For example, Damon sometimes transposes classic rock ’n’ roll song melodies into simple xylophone parts, letting students play along to live YouTube concert videos.

“The kids look forward to the day that Steve works here not only for his morning arrival serenade, but because he uses similar routines in his classroom, such as an Eastern European dance that he starts many of his classes with, called ‘Sasha,’ and the ‘school song’ his classes sing regularly,” Crisafulli said.

He views music as “another language. I have a little guy who stutters, but not when he’s singing.” As a teacher, Damon enjoys seeing children become enamored with music. He recalls one moment when a young student came to him incredibly excited because he’d watched jazz musician Miles Davis perform on YouTube for the first time.

“(Music) is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be something you enjoy for the rest of your life,” he said.

In the future, Damon said he intends to continue playing for students as they arrive on Wednesday mornings — barring unforeseen circumstances and extreme weather conditions — “so the kids know that music doesn’t end in 12th grade,” Damon said.

For those interested in learning more about A Natural Music School visit www.anaturalmusicschool.org. Whately Elementary School’s annual concert will be held Dec. 20.