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How making music lets Rhinelander High School students unplug and connect

Hodag band
Erin Gottsacker
The Rhinelander High School band plays at the Hodag Heritage Festival.

This story was developed through a partnership with WXPR and Rhinelander High School. Student Storytellers is an initiative to amplify youth voices. Support for this project is provided by the Rhinelander Community Foundation.

Today millions of people listen to and create music. Creating music connects us. Band teachers around the world are working to extend that connectedness to younger generations.

Rhinelander Band Director Jacob Kulba has been conducting high school bands for over eleven years. He teaches and conducts many classes at both the Rhinelander High School and Middle School, including concert bands, ensembles and the Green Shades Jazz Band.

Students in the jazz band meet every Thursday morning, arriving at school at 7 a.m. and playing jazz pieces until school starts at 7:50 a.m. Students in jazz and other musical groups share a similar commitment.

Ever since COVID, technology has been a huge part of all of our lives, especially in the younger generation with smartphones. Many students nowadays feel the need to be connected 24/7. But in a way music can help alleviate that need.

“When you play music, you have to realize what's going on around you and you have to be unplugged,” says Kulba. “Music is a way for me to force people to put the technology away and connect on a human level without words.”

Playing music demands attention not only on the music, but on the instrument and the director. This leaves musicians without the capacity for much of anything else, including technology.

Music can help create connections in other ways too. Music is the only true universal language. If musicians from Germany, Egypt, America and Brazil were in the same room and each handed a piece of music from Spain, they would all be able to play together.

Playing music can also help musicians gain connections.

Because of music, musicians and directors like Kulba have been a part of some really cool performances. Last spring break, Kulba took a large part of the band down to Tennessee.

Students were able to play pep band at Graceland, see performers at the Grand Ole Opry, and even have a clinic with the head band director at the University of Vanderbilt.

Trips like Tennessee have helped Kulba and his students create connections with people such as the band director at Vanderbilt, but also between members of the band itself. This helps create a tight-knit band that can work together easily and be more successful.

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McKenna Nash is a Rhinelander High School graduate and WXPR Student Storyteller.