Kenny School band gets ready for its Dot Day close-up

Members of the Kenny School marching band were pictured during the 2014 Dorchester Day Parade. This year’s edition of the Kenny School band is gearing up for their turn to walk the avenue this weekend. Chris Lovett photo

The only elementary school marching band in the Boston Public School district will bring its talents to this year’s Dot Day Parade.  Dorchester’s Thomas J. Kenny School on Oakton Ave. educates students from kindergarten to sixth grade while offering special extracurricular activities, including a school marching band led by music teacher Jerry Chu. 

While the student musicians can be seen performing on the streets of Boston, the real work begins inside the classroom. “We make sure across the board every student gets music starting through K1 to sixth grade,” said Kenny principal Shereka King. “We treat our music special just like any other academic class – with the same level of importance. Math is just as important as music is just as important as art is just as important as physical education.”

Since students are taught music throughout their time at the Kenny, many ask to participate in the school band. Currently, the group is composed of students ranging from third to sixth grade who play various instruments, including the flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and percussion. 

Chu, who has been teaching since 2005, turns each student he meets into a musician. “We as a school learn the same music theory across the board,” he said. “If you go to a first or second-grade class, they know ABCDEFG, which comes from the theory of “do-re-mi.” They all learn the same patterns. That’s music theory and music reading.”

Mr. Chu leads the rehearsal of the Kenny School band in a classroom. Cassidy McNeeley photo

Luckily for his students, Chu is fluent in both band and orchestra instruments, meaning he can teach them just about any instrument that they want to learn. In sixth grader Ayumi’s case, this meant the flute.

“I picked up the flute because when I was about four years old,” she said. “I had this marching band book, and I admired the flute and really wanted to play it. I decided to pick it and make my dream come true.”

In March, Ayumi and her bandmates performed in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston. Their next performance will be right here in Dorchester next Sunday. “It’s a lot of endurance, we’re talking [3.2] miles, the drums are tough,” said Chu.

Even though participating in the parade can take a physical toll on the students, marching in it “is a point of pride,” said King, for students “going to a school that provides an opportunity for them to be creative. We operate under our core value, which is Kenny P.R.I.D.E and wearing those uniforms and playing in the band are all just points of that.” 

The acronym stands for Perseverance. Responsibility. Integrity. Dedication. Effort. Having pride in their performances takes a lot of practice, some of which is done in the schoolyard. In the weeks leading up to the Dot Day Parade, the band has been holding typical music rehearsals in the classroom while marching practice takes place outside of the school for all the neighbors to hear. 

Not every student in the band plays an instrument. Some are responsible for carrying flags and banners. “I chose banner because I didn’t want to take time learning a whole new instrument,” said fourth grader Amiko. “You just have to walk, and you get to be in the front where everyone sees you.”

Another student who will be hard to miss in the parade is third grader Holden who, with Chu’s help, is mastering an instrument larger than himself. He explained: “I picked the trombone because it seemed like not that many people were playing it.”

Third graders like Holden are in their first year with the band, and the graduating sixth graders are in their last. King and Chu, however, are working to place them in schools where they can continue their music careers. 

“There’s a school preview day in Boston so what we’ll do when we’re there is we will ask other schools if they have a band. Not all schools have a marching band but there are other variations of that,” said King. “We do that research internally and check and see what opportunities exist at other schools, especially for those students who show interest in continuing in music.” 

One sixth-grade student who has loved being a part of the band is Micah. “I play the drums. I like drums ‘cause they are loud and obnoxious. I wanted to play them because drums are like the backbone of all bands,” he said. 

No matter what instrument his students choose, Chu sees music as a healthy outlet for the children. “It gives them more options to express themselves,” he said.

Chu, King, and the students at the Kenny are all excited about their performance in June. “We could be wrapped up in so many other things,” said the principal. “It’s nice to be reminded that there are really good things happening, and they’re happening right here.”

The Kenny School band gets set for a practice session in the Oakton Avenue schoolbuilding near Adams Corner. Cassidy McNeeley photo

Dominic and Julius

Nadine and Victoria

Holden on the trombone

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