Gilmanton, Wis., is known for being a small town. Some locals say that if you drive too fast, you might blink and miss it.
But the town's size doesn't matter much when it comes to the city's school music program. In a combined junior and senior high school with fewer than 100 students, almost 90 percent are in either band or choir, and many are in both.
The only problem is trying to find practice space.
At the Gilmanton High School, there is no single room designated for the music program and no budget to change that fact anytime in the near future. The band practices on the auditorium stage. The choir sings in the auditorium's entryway, where they compete for space with a concession stand, the school's prized 2001 state girl’s basketball trophy and an albino deer display.
Blake Seitz is the music teacher for Gilmanton's high school and elementary. Seitz, who's known for wearing a mid-length ponytail pulled up in back that he's growing for Locks of Love and constantly chewing on almonds to control his diabetes, came to Gilmanton in 1996.
“We make due with what we have,” Seitz said. “(The students) don’t know any different.”
And students say that the beauty of performing music is that you can do it anywhere.
“It doesn’t make a difference,” said Kelsey Rudsinski, a junior at Gilmanton. “You can sing and play wherever you want.”
The school may not be able to commit to building a big new rehearsal room, but it's dedicated to ensuring that students never have to choose between music and other academics. And to making music classes look as about as attractive as possible.
“At some bigger schools, the students would have to pick between required classes and music,” Seitz said. “We make it so if you don’t want to be in music, the only other option is to take a study hall at that time.”
Seitz said that students are encouraged but never forced to participate in the school's music programs, which also include a number of opportunities for solo and small-group performances. He believes so many students are involved because many begin at a young age, and because there are so few activities in the small community other than sports.
At Gilmanton, students can be in the music program and still participate in sports. It can create a frenetic atmosphere at times during home games, where some students play on the junior varsity team and then—still wearing their jerseys—jump into the pep band and pick up an instrument just in time to cheer on the varsity team.
“It’s just always been a tradition,” said Seitz, who joins the students in pep band performances. “When people see it they think it’s cool, and it looks good for the school.”
Freshman Taylor Bloom, who plays in both pep band and on the junior varsity basketball team, said it's sometimes hard to make the transition.
“If we win it’s great, but when we lose, it sucks,” she said. “But we know the fans like it.”
Terry Peterson, mother of three, is one of those fans. She said the Gilmanton community has long showed its support for the school's music programs, particularly by packing the auditorium every time there's a concert.
“It’s good for the kids; it lets them express their own talents,“ Peterson said. “Everyone loves some kind of music.”
At a time when schools across the country are faced with budget deficits and considering scratching music and arts education, the tiny Gilmanton school has no such worries, Seitz said.
“Music is one of the things this school can do,” he said.