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Garage band: Woman's former students join her orchestra

Amanda Nelson thought having her former music students play in her garage was a ridiculous idea - at first. But after talking with other music teachers, including one who mentioned a woman in Wheaton who held a summer band in her garage with her students, she gave it a try, Nelson said. For the last month, 25 to 30 music students have rehearsed for two hours every Wednesday night in Nelson's garage, which is in the 400 block of North Sixth Street. The group will play a concert Wednesday in the garage. “I thought the kids would love to do this. It's right up their alley,” Nelson said before rehearsal began Wednesday evening. “I mentioned it to a couple of parents, and they said, ‘Sign them up.' ” Nelson resigned in March from her positions as orchestra director at Huntley Middle School and music teacher at Chesebro Elementary. Nelson said she was told by Huntley Middle School Principal Roger Scott that her contract wasn't going to be renewed for the 2008-09 school year, and that she could wait for the year to end or resign. The DeKalb School District could not confirm what led to Nelson's resignation, because personnel matters are confidential, DeKalb School District spokesman Russ Fletcher said Friday during a phone interview. The DeKalb School Board approved Nelson's resignation, DeKalb School Board President Mike Verbic said Friday. Verbic also said he could not comment about personnel matters beyond the board's decision. Her resignation led to a swell of support from school staff, parents and students. Wednesday's garage rehearsal was both a get-together for the students and an intensive practice. Nelson talked and laughed with students as they set up instruments and organized sheet music. But once they began rehearsing numbers, including the “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme and a medley of songs from the rock band Queen, the children paid close attention to Nelson's directions. “Intonation is our No. 1 issue,” Nelson said after waving for the children to stop playing after only a few notes. “I know you guys are capable of playing this, but the dynamics need work, and we're not playing together.” The music selected for Wednesday's performance was chosen to challenge the more experienced students, while still allowing the newer musicians to keep up and learn, Nelson said. “They are anywhere from having just started playing this year to others who've played for about six, seven years,” Nelson said. Her song selection for performances in the past included classic rock songs, such as Deep Purple's “Smoke on the Water.” Though the songs were written before the students were born, they could relate to the music, Nelson said. “It's all stuff from (the music video game) Guitar Hero,” Nelson said. Some children at Wednesday's practice said they came for the enjoyment of playing in the orchestra. “I love playing the violin, and she makes orchestra so much fun, there was no reason not to do this,” 13-year-old Kelsey Faibre said. Nelson is now seeking another position to teach and lead an orchestra, which has been her dream career since she was 7, Nelson's mother, Mary Lake, said Wednesday. “I didn't realize how awesome this will be, so I am thinking about what to do next,” Nelson said. “We might do something else like this. I just don't know what yet.”

If you go What: Amanda Nelson's sixth- through eighth-grade student orchestra's summer performance When: 7 p.m. Wednesday Where: 424 N. Sixth St., DeKalb In case of inclement weather, the concert will be rescheduled. Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.

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