EMINENCE, Mo. – Most music students at Eminence R-1 School District have dropped the traditional school band approach and have been playing stringed instruments for the last five years.
The tiny school has long struggled to keep musicians who enjoy playing brass, percussion and woodwind instruments. Current music teacher and band instructor Darrell Jones, 67, says a former superintendent approached him five years ago and requested to start the new program, in which 7th-12th graders are eligible for the Eminence Redwing string band.
Jones is a pastor who has played guitar since he was 12 years old, and says his primary instruments contain strings – the guitar and banjo – but he also plays some piano.
He tells The Heartlander some of his students still prefer to play the traditional flute or trumpet, and he doesn’t discourage that traditional approach.
“What we’re doing, we’re teaching our kids by tabs,” Jones said. “We are doing a song now called Foggy Mountain Breakdown on the banjo. I’ve never played it before, so I got the tabs out and was trying to teach it to a 7th-grader. I showed her what I could do and she passed me in three days. She was already blowing me out of the saddle. They’ve got dexterity in their fingers and they can do this stuff so quick.”
Despite the school’s rural location in the Ozark National Scenic Riverway and the area’s love for traditional string bands, bluegrass is not the only genre in the Redwing lineup. Jones enjoys introducing his students to a wide range of music from classic rock n’ roll tunes written by Chuck Berry to Creedence Clearwater Revival.
The music teacher says he checks lyrics to ensure safety before the band decides to learn a new song.
Students often request to play new songs that Jones isn’t familiar with. The multi-talented pastor says he allows the requests as long as the songs are appropriate for an audience.
Jones was an athlete and musician growing up and says he does not discourage his music students from playing sports. He says he believes music is a spiritual experience, and emphasizes its universal importance to students while reminding them music can always be a part of their life even when they are too old to participate in sports.
The Eminence Redwing band meets and practices in a 100-year-old building next to the main high school building. Students practice their craft several hours a day at the school, some during study hall when they have nothing else to do. A few students have even started their own string bands outside of the school and are already playing local gigs.
In the inaugural year for the new band, Jones didn’t have enough instruments for each student, but the local community has stepped up and donated money toward the purchase of instruments. Additionally, the Jimmy Jack Foundation in Snyder, Oklahoma caught wind of the Redwing mission and has helped provide instruments for multiple students.
“With Jimmy Jack, these aren’t school instruments. He gives them to the kids and they can take them home. It’s putting instruments in their hands that they will have, and that’s a beautiful thing right there. I really appreciate him. I talked to him a couple of days ago and we’ve got some more instruments set aside for the new students coming in next year.”
Jones recently contemplated retirement until a young student approached him and expressed her appreciation for what he is doing at Eminence schools. The music man says he enjoys helping kids reach into the majestic world of music – and the sincere compliments from his students may have changed his mind about retiring.
“In my heart of hearts, I would like to see this be a recruitment. We’ve got other kids here in the school who could play and I wish they would. I sometimes wonder if they think we are too limited, but we’re really not. I pastor a church but I’m not here preaching to these kids; that’s not the thing. We’re here to teach them about music and the value of it.”
If you would like to donate to Eminence R-1 School District’s Redwing Band, checks are generally accepted. To donate to the Jimmy Jack Foundation, click here.