Music a passion for area teacher

Ella Fure, Esme Ulland-Joy (both students at Sandy Knoll and members of 8-18 Media) and Mrs. Koskiniemi are pictured. (Photo by 8-18 Media)


There are probably not many kids out there who don’t want to be a rock star when they grow up. Kids are attracted to music even at a young age from “Twinkle, Twinkle” all the way to the Beatles and beyond.

Donna Koskiniemi has been a certified music teacher since 1989, and is currently teaching music in kindergarten through fifth grade at Sandy Knoll Elementary School in Marquette. Before she was certified as an official music teacher she began teaching piano at the age of 18. Koskiniemi said she couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t love music. Her love of music started early on, as she was fascinated by the piano when she was very young.

“When I was little, my parents bought a house and there was a piano in it when they bought it from two retired school teachers and they tell me, I don’t remember this, but as soon as I could crawl, I would crawl to it, and then when I could start pulling myself up to stand, I started reaching for the keys,” Koskiniemi said. “I was just always going over to that piano. When I was 4 they decided they should probably enroll me in piano lessons because they thought, that way, when they heard me play, I’d actually be able to play beautiful music for them.”

Koskiniemi said she believes music plays an important role in the lives of children. Music is much more than just a class.

“If you have ever watched a young child, even a baby, when there is music playing you see them moving to the music don’t you?” she said. “We must naturally respond to music and so it just becomes an innate part of who we are as human beings and so it is always a part of our lives.”

Koskiniemi remembered what music classes were like when she was younger and in school.

“We stayed in our classroom and our music teacher came in and we sat in our seats and he played the piano and we sang. That was music when I was your age in school,” she said, addressing 8-18 Media reporters. “Most classrooms back then had a piano.”

Currently, every class at Sandy Knoll involves music. In Koskiniemi’s music class, there are bongo drums, several large drums, metallophones, xylophones, glockenspiels, tambourines, maracas and several other instruments. Students learn several songs, how to play several of the instruments, and how to write and read musical notation. Many students wonder about the difference between some of the similar instruments; Koskiniemi explained the difference between metallophones and xylophones is metallophones have metal bars and xylophones have wooden bars and the glockenspiels are smaller.

Koskiniemi prepares her students for two music programs per school year that parents and caregivers can attend: a holiday program and a spring program. Music programs at Sandy Knoll are now done a little differently to help her students’ talents shine.

“We began, here at Sandy Knoll, doing them differently; with our grade level performances so that we can make sure everyone plays an instrument in our spring program so we can really share your [students] talents and skills that you’re developing through the year,” Koskiniemi said.

Koskiniemi said she enjoys several aspects of teaching music, but it is the interaction with her students that is the high note.

“Learning. I learn from you [students] every time I see you. You teach me and I teach you and we share. We learn together. That’s what my favorite part of teaching is…learning together.”

Even though she loves it, there are some difficulties with teaching kids music.

“One of the big challenges is that they love to play instruments and so teaching about rest position and proper mallet grip and use and care of expensive instruments. We have talked about how special all of these instruments are and how expensive each one of them is; hundreds of dollars for, especially, the xylophones and metallophones and so I think that it is challenging, helping them reign the excitement in and learn to approach the instruments in a respectful manner and then we can enjoy playing “Mallet Madness” and “Old Black Fly” in a responsible way and yet, you still have fun,” Koskiniemi said. “Even though we still have the rules and expectations; once you learn, it makes it more fun for all of us.”

So maybe classroom time isn’t the time to practice your rock n’ roll drum solo?

According to the National Association for Music Education website, there are at least 20 important benefits of teaching music in schools. For example, music helps you master memorization skills and students learn to improve their work. Students gain a sense of achievement. Music can also be relaxing. Students can combat stress by learning to play music. Musical instruments can also teach discipline, helping students in school and at home. Kids also learn teamwork from taking music classes at school. Playing music is also just plain fun!

Koskiniemi does have a few classroom rules she would like her students to follow.

“To have fun. Have fun learning and learning together and sometimes, it always takes a great deal of discipline, so learning to listen and be respectful of each other and to be safe with instruments and with each other is probably my main rule,” she said. “Remembering to be safe, respectful and responsible while we are learning together.”

Music is an important part of a student’s education and vital for happiness in life. OK. Now is a good time to practice your rocking drum solo.

Written by: Liam Ulland-Joy, 12 and Esme Ulland-Joy, 8, with contribution by Ella Fure, 8.

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