Students aspire to black belts – in music

“Hi-yah!” was the opening sound effect at the community concert last week at McEowen Elementary School in Harrisonville

Well, OK, not really.

But Kiai, often pronounced “hi-yah,” is one of the best-known sounds of the Japanese martial art, karate. And karate is the basis of all of the music learned and played by the school’s recorder consort, which shared the program with a select choir the evening of Dec. 18.

All McEowen Elementary School musicians are learning to play the woodwind instrument through a motivational method called “Recorder Karate.” They learn a song together in music class, but each individual’s performance is evaluated separately.

“Hot Cross Buns” earns a white belt, or in this case, white threads tied to the end of a player’s instrument case. Making it through all nine levels and proficiently playing the “Star-Spangled Banner” earns the black belt/black threads.

Fifth-grader Julianne Meier is a Red Belt.

“I love it (recorder) because I love music, and I love singing and dancing,” she said. “Music inspired me the first time I started listening to it in my room on the radio. Music just makes me feel good. It’s my natural high.”

Fifth-grader Braeden Elifrits also earned a Red Belt after mastering the high E note through the song, “My Paddle.” It wasn’t hard, he said.

But Braeden was being modest, said music teacher Alyssa Holsten, since he qualified for the after-school recorder consort at McEowen.

“It (the recorder) was the first instrument I ever played,” Braeden said. “It was one of the things I could always do better than singing.”

Holsten said the students are doing a great job with the program.

“It’s a fun way to practice and work on their music-reading skills.”

All 363 McEowen students participate, meaning Holsten evaluates the progress of all 363.

“This is a good chance for me to hear them one-on-one and make sure they’re getting it individually,” she said, “or whether they’re just playing along with the group.”