TAMPA - Alex Lankford is a 6-foot-3-inch eighth-grader at Buchanan Middle School. He can dunk, has plenty of game and basketball coaches everywhere would do almost anything to have him.
No thanks, he said. No interest. He plays baritone sax and tuba for the Buchanan band and wants to continue his music career in high school. He is only one of a number of students at Buchanan who have discovered that music is about more than flamboyance, costume changes, and tabloid exposure.
Sure, a lot of middle school students look at the pop stars of today as a reflection of what they would like to achieve.
But not at Buchanan, that’s not how it works. When Band Director Sarah Baca arrived four years ago, she was determined to teach her students that there are many more genres than what they might be exposed to at home.
The band plays plenty of songs that the kids wouldn’t normally hear on their iPods – including Springsteen and the Beatles, or even AC/DC or country music.
Alex said he knew nothing about those musical influences until he started taking music seriously.
“I never knew about a lot of the songs we were playing,” Alex said. “Then I listened and started to play them and it turned out to be a lot of fun. The stuff we are playing is what music is all about.”
Fellow student Leyliana Greer agreed.
“It’s a lot different than what we are used to hearing, but it grows on you,” Leyliana said. “I love all kinds of music, but the stuff we play here shows you there are things that you don’t hear on the radio and most kids don’t know about. I never thought I could play the trombone and it’s fun. I love playing jazz.”
It hasn’t been a struggle for Baca, who has been a musician her whole life and still can pick up nearly any instrument for a demonstration. Mehdi Rizk said she sets a great example and, although he didn’t understand some of the new music he was practicing at first, he never gave up and now has an appreciation for all kinds of music.
“We practice for about a month before we do a performance,” said Mehdi. “We are very fast and can pick up anything right away. We can’t be lazy because we take our band seriously at Buchanan.”
More importantly, Mehdi said he is learning that music existed before he was born.
“I like to play trumpet and a lot of kids don’t listen to a lot of trumpet music,” Mehdi said. “There’s a lot of history in music. When I first hear some of the songs we will be playing, I get blown away. I am like, ‘Wow, why haven’t I heard this before?”’
Alex said learning new music at Buchanan has opened his mind in ways he never knew.
“I can dunk and that’s what everybody expects me to be doing,” he said. “But I like music and this is what I really want to do.’’