DYER — Hands primed over each of their instruments, the Kahler Middle School eighth-grade band students' eyes are glued to their music with an ear to what their band teacher is saying.
"Be aware of the phrasing," said band teacher Leta Sena-Lopez. "That's the first phrase. That's where you breathe. Take your pencil and put a mark there."
The students at Kahler Middle School are getting ready for a concert Dec. 2. All the band and concert students will perform.
Lopez takes the students through "Silent Night" and a rendition of "Country Wildflowers." She said the concert will feature a variety of music to challenge the audience.
As the students listen, they don't just have their fingers on their instruments, their feet are also tapping out the beat.
Eighth-graders Nate Sorrentio and Lisa Ham said the band class is one of their favorites.
Sorrentio, who is a percussionist, said he's been taking private band lessons for nine years.
Ham plays the trigger trombone, and has been playing music since fifth grade.
"There are no words to describe how much I love band. I look forward to coming to school every day because of it," she said.
Ham said she wants to become a surgeon but believes that music is a great skill to have and is relaxing. "It takes you to a different world," Ham said.
Lopez said the middle school also has a jazz band that meets before school. She said her students have performed in Chicago and at the South Suburban Jazz Festival. She said students also have won numerous awards at the Indiana State School Music Association over the years.
A 26-year veteran educator, Lopez has been teaching band at Kahler for 22 years.
"As an educator, I think it's important for kids to see that if they want a career in music, they can have that," she said. "I've had former students go on to be band directors and professional musicians, and one former student is a two-time Grammy winner.
"I continue to try and keep the community educated about our music program," she said. "It's great to have the emphasis on science and math, but you can't go through life without the arts, and support music in our schools. My music director inspired me when I was growing up in Chesterton. My kids have grown up and been enrolled in my program, along with the children of many of my friends. It's been a family."
Kahler Principal Ken Newton said the band is definitely one of the points of pride for Kahler. He said Lopez's musical talent and drive for excellence keep the school's award-winning program topnotch.
"I am amazed each year as students enter the band program, many of them playing an instrument for the first time, how Leta is able to work with these students and shape them into musicians so quickly," he said. "In just a few short months, they are able to perform in our winter concert and the music they play is impressive. It is hard to believe you are listening to middle school students.
"Leta enriches the band program by taking several trips each year. The band has been to The Blue Man Group, The Chicago Symphony, The Zhou Art Museum as well as their annual end-of-year trip to Great America. Leta conducts sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade bands and our jazz band. She also teaches fifth-grade general music classes. Since 1995, all of our bands have received a gold rating at their annual ISSMA competitions," he said.