Mississippi Middle School starts new rock band class

Published 9:30 am Sunday, August 28, 2022

Tupelo Middle School is located in the heart of the King of Rock and Roll’s hometown, so it’s only appropriate for the school to help foster the next generation of rock stars.

Following tryouts last week, the school’s new rock band class now meets during the first period each day on the Civic Auditorium stage. It’s there where the class’ seven students hone their skills on guitar, piano, bass guitar and drums.

Students have started out learning about song structure by playing along with Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” and The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” Eventually, they’ll be playing songs like those on their own and performing them for live audiences.

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Tupelo Middle School principal Mark Enis has a love for music and said his goal is to offer more opportunities for the seventh and eighth grade students with a passion for music.

He came up with the idea for a TMS rock band last year after seeing a performance from Tupelo High School’s instrumental group, Structure, which plays alongside the THS show choir. Enis said he knew many of the students in Structure, and it inspired him to bring a similar opportunity to TMS.

“From an academic standpoint, it’s a grind for these kids sometimes,” Enis said. “And we want to stretch far beyond the curriculum, the core subjects, and make sure that we’re offering these students an opportunity to really get in an elective that they enjoy.”

Tracy Smithey, director of the THS Structure and Foundations bands, now spends her mornings at Tupelo Middle teaching the rock band class.

While students at the middle school level may take music lessons and learn an instrument, Smithey said, most don’t have an opportunity to play in a rock band. This class will change that.

The rock band’s instruments and equipment will be supplied by the school as part of the district’s fine arts budget. Items purchased include drum sets, microphones, Fender guitars, bass guitars and a PA system.

Kit Stafford, TPSD’s fine arts director, said the district is investing approximately $32,000 in the class with plans to continue supporting the program and helping it grow.

“Ms. Smithey’s rock band class will, without a doubt, teach music and technique that these students can enjoy their entire lives,” Stafford said, adding that it will teach teamwork and resilience and will build confidence in a way only the arts can.

In recent years, Tupelo has made great strides in advancing its fine arts programs districtwide, starting in early 2021 with the announcement that it would invest $440,000 in the arts.

According to Stafford, the addition of Tupelo Middle School’s rock band class further supports that goal. The mission, she said, is to build a “world-class” arts program.

“Our administration and school board have made the arts a priority and have committed to fully funding the arts,” Stafford said. “TPSD has had major fine arts purchases over the last two years. The rock band purchases are just a continuation of that significant fine arts investment.”

Students in the class already have a basic knowledge of their instruments, and they’ll continue studying their instruments of choice while learning to play at a structural level with the group.

Despite the name of the program, Smithey plans to expose her students to various genres of music — not just rock.

“I also like to include a little country or anything that’s modern, contemporary, a little jazz and blues so that they get experience in all of those things,” Smithey said. “Because on their own, they’re only going to do the ones they like.”

She hopes to instill confidence in her students and help them to realize the value in their musical abilities.
Having classes on an auditorium stage, she said, will help to ease their nerves when the time comes to perform.

“If you’re constantly looking at this audience, what feels like an audience, you’re not afraid of it when it comes time to perform,” Smithey said.

Some members, like seventh grader William Chapman, are already comfortable performing on stage. He’s also a member of the orchestra, where he plays viola. He’s only been playing bass guitar for a couple of months but has a familiarity with music that already has him excited about performing with the rock band when the time comes.

Madison Bailey, a seventh grade student, has played piano for around a year but is excited to improve her skills as part of the rock band class.

She’s previously performed in piano recitals and isn’t shy about being on stage.

“The class is fun,” Bailey said. “I get to play piano for everybody. And my dream is to be on ‘America’s Got Talent.'”

Undoubtedly, when the spotlight’s on Bailey and her bandmates and their music fills the Tupelo Civic Auditorium, that dream will seem close enough to hear.