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Grant's music to ears of St. Francis students

Some sweet sounds have been produced by the young musicians at St. Francis School in Ellsworth during past concerts, but something was missing.

The school was unable to afford the big orff instruments, like bass xylophones and metalo xylophones, which can round out a musical experience, both for players and listeners. Kay Lee Penton, in her fifth year as St. Francis music teacher, said Wednesday the fifth grade students were managing to present a series of "Performance Folk Tales" she'd initiated using just instruments such as maracas and drums, which were available.

But an opportunity from the St. Croix Valley Community Foundation (SCVCF) has now enabled the school's instrumental collection to grow.

Late last year, St. Francis was awarded a $1,649 grant from the SCVCF to buy those bigger music-makers.

"We were excited when we found out," Penton said.

She ordered the desired items through a catalog from Suzuki, a well-known brand of musical supplies, and they arrived in time for last month's folk tale concert, the latest of three, she said. The 20 fifth graders were divided into two orchestras in mid-March to present "Tikki Tikki Tembo," a Chinese folk tale, with the new xylophones adding another dimension to a show also featuring homemade shadow puppets projected onto a large white sheet.

"The whole school was there," she said about a performance for which the players say what they're going to present and act it out, demonstrating via the puppets and the music.

Two previous efforts--African Folk Tales and Native American Folk Tales--were done minus the new additions.

"It really teaches the students to concentrate...they have to know their parts and the rhythm," she said.

The teacher said St. Francis Principal Jeanne McCoy learned of the grant opportunity last fall. A week before the application was due, Penton wrote down what she wanted and why, plus projected a time for its use and emphasized how the school's music program prepares the elementary students for what they'll need in the middle grades and high school.

"I didn't know how much to ask was getting to be $1,600 and I wasn't sure if we'd have a chance," she said, adding if there was ever another opportunity, she'd want to try for a replacement alto xylophone, temple blocks and microphones.

Penton said she hand-delivered the application to Hudson because the deadline was nearing. The instruments didn't quite arrive in time for the school's production of "The Cat or the Rat," but she looks forward to their inclusion in that and its other presentations.