Mei Ono is the lead drum major in the Northwood High School Marching Band, plays piano in the Jazz Band and is the second violin principal in the school’s Philharmonic Orchestra.
The senior also “highly doubts” that any of this would have come to pass had it not been for the music opportunities in elementary and middle school available within Irvine Unified School District.
“The choices that we have — it’s just crazy to me,” says the 17-year-old.
In IUSD every student in grades four to six gets two 40-minute music lessons per week.
“By the time the student comes to us, the seed has already been planted,” says Northwood High’s Instrumental Music Director Ben Case. “It’s watering the tree, feeding the roots.”
A whopping one-third of the Northwood High student body (2,200) participates in the music program. Northwood has four concert bands, four orchestras, four jazz bands and a marching band. The school also has five choirs.
“We have an incredible feeder system,” Case says. “The level of talent is just hard to put into words.”
Ono, for instance, picked up violin in fourth grade at Santiago Hills Elementary — and is now the second violin principal in Northwood’s philharmonic.
As if that’s not impressive enough, Ono, who picked up the drums in ninth grade because they “looked cool,” spent this past summer learning how to conduct by watching videos virtually at home.
“If all these opportunities hadn’t been available, I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to look for them,” says Ono.
According to the National Association for Music Education, childhood music education fosters creativity, communication skills, reasoning, memorization and coordination. It also fosters friendships.
“Our program is all about inclusion,” says Case, adding that the early classroom lessons enable kids from all financial backgrounds to join the music family.
“So many kids, they want to get connected. We have varsity athletes, ASB students, freshmen who are brand new, all rubbing shoulders,” says Case. “It’s really a place for everybody.”