Sauk Rapids-Rice Middle School Band Director, Jennie Planer, has always loved music. She says, “From my earliest memory, I can recall my mother practicing the piano late at night as I fell asleep, her music wafting throughout our house. I took piano lessons from a young age and couldn’t wait to join band in sixth grade. As I have gone through life, I keep learning that there are more instruments and things about music I didn’t know existed.”
Ms. Planer grew up on a small farm near Annandale and graduated from Annandale High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree at the College of Saint Benedict. She originally wanted to study biology, but found she really enjoyed teaching music when her college band director gave her the opportunity to teach clarinet lessons. She decided to become a music educator. During her senior year of college, Ms. Planer was able to student teach with Ms. Martinson at Sauk Rapids-Rice Middle School and with Mr. Campbell at the high school, not realizing she would eventually work in the district herself.
After college graduation, Ms. Planer taught band for two years in India, at an international school in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. She then went on to teach fifth through twelfth grade band in Crosby-Ironton. This past school year marked Ms. Planer’s twelfth year of teaching, but was also her first year at Sauk Rapids-Rice Middle School.
In addition to managing her teaching responsibilities, Ms. Planer continues her own music education, and will earn a master’s degree in instrumental music education from the American Band College program at Central Washington University in Washington State next summer.
Her curiosity about all things musical is summed up in an Albert Einstein quote: “The more I learn, the more I realized how much I don’t know.” Ms. Planer’s curiosity has led her to learn about new—and very old—instruments and musical techniques. She recently discovered an instrument called the serpent, which is a bass and wind hybrid, descended from the cornet, and an ancestor of the tuba. She says, “While most people have a job and then have hobbies that are completely unrelated to their job, my hobbies include making music and learning different instruments, which is also what I do every day as a music educator.”
Ms. Planer’s musical discovery is valuable to her for many reasons, but one primary one is that she feels music is a wonderful communication tool and a universal language. “I know firsthand from teaching in India that music can bring people together from all over the world. With music, you don’t have to speak the same verbal language to communicate. I have had students who were not comfortable speaking English, but could communicate feelings through their performances and by creating music.”
The importance of music as a communication tool has never been more important, especially during this challenging time when social distancing is in place and people may be separated. “We have all seen videos of people making music together during this difficult time, whether they are of Italian citizens singing together from their balconies or pop stars performing shared concerts from their living rooms. Art has a history of helping humans transcend trying times, and music brings people together, helps them express how they feel and has the power to change people’s mood. I know that if I am feeling sad or upset, a certain song can help me feel better.”
Ms. Planer says that she has noticed another way that music helps people connect. She says her students make strong connections and become friends with others they might never have talked to through involvement with band. For Ms. Planer and many, many others, human connection is inherent in the making of music.
This very important human connection draws Ms. Planer to her work and is also a reason many of her students begin and continue to study music. “Playing an instrument helps students make connections with others. It is pretty cool to see a group of 100 sixth graders learn and work together towards the common goal of creating art,” she says.
Right now, Ms. Planer and Mr. Lathe, Sauk Rapids-Rice Middle School choir director, are encouraging fifth graders and their families to become involved in band and choir during sixth grade. Here are some resources, opportunities and important dates families should be aware of:
- Fifth graders might consider continuing musical experiences in sixth grade: https://bit.ly/2YMwxiY
- A video about different types of instruments: https://bit.ly/2YKmevR
- Students should fill out the Instrument Exploration Form, emailed to families. This form is due on Friday, May 15.
- Students should fill out the Band/Choir Registration Form, emailed to families. This form is due on Friday, May 22.
- Parent Night via Zoom will be on Monday, May 18, at 7:00 p.m.
- Parents, guardians and students may also schedule individual time to meet with Ms. Planer or Mr. Lathe via Zoom, if needed.
Please contact Ms. Planer at email@example.com with questions or if you need copies of any of the above forms.