Marathon ISD introduces Native American music

Marathon seventh graders Amaris Martinez, Sadie Carter, Elah Barlow, and Marco Briones entertain a jam session with Principal Juan Saldana. 

There’s no doubt that music is a big part of everyone’s lives, and it all starts in the classroom. This is where Marathon ISD Principal Juan Saldana comes in as he leads the inaugural Marathon ISD Native American flute class, composed of seventh graders Sadie Carter, Marco Briones, Elah Barlow, and Amaris Martinez.

Before arriving at Marathon ISD in January, Saldana brought with him a plethora of music education experience, including band director in Pearsall and Throckmorton school districts, and leading those schools to state UIL marching band competitions.  

“When I noticed there was no music program here in Marathon, I thought, ‘I have the music degree, I might as well be using it!’” he exclaimed.

Thanks to encouragement by Marathon resident Bob Freeman, a noted artisan who handcrafts wooden flutes, Saldana stepped up, and made it happen at the start of the school year.

“I have been playing Native American flute for five years, and when Bob came to me and found out I played and that I was a principal, he asked if I had ever thought about doing a flute class at the school,” Saldana said. “That’s when I got the idea of doing this for our junior high students.”

Freeman pitched in, and generously donated his handcrafted flutes to the students, who will keep them until the end of the school year.

The flutes vary in sizes and types, and they all play a distinct range. When played in unison, it becomes a Native American flute choir.

“The smaller the flute, the higher the range, and the bigger the flute, the lower it will sound,” said Saldana.

He hopes student participation in the class will increase, and eventually the flute choir could perform as if it were a band program.

The students are now busy practicing for their first school performance. On Nov. 11 for the Veteran’s Day program, the students will perform patriotic songs at the elementary school auditorium.

Earning a music degree enabled Saldana to work with young people, grow their appreciation for the arts, and help them develop skills they can use inside and outside the classroom.

Said Saldana, “Here in Marathon, we are very interested in teaching the whole child, and part of that is adding fine arts into the program. It has been shown that children who study music score better in standardized tests, and they also have better attendance at school.”

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