Music, Dreams, and Coming of Age in the Heartland


Freshman clarinet player Adilene Corona, new to the band and the community, “marks a chart” on the pavement. The paint smudge, one of thousands, will help her find where she belongs in the band.


adilene 02

adilene corona
third clarinet

“Assistant director Steve Peterson placed Adilene in his beginning group, where nearly all the students were sixth graders. The sixth graders, though younger than Adilene, had benefited from a summer of intensive instruction, plus half a year of daily classes. Adilene lacked that hothouse start. She hadn’t learned to sing the first bars of ‘My Country ’Tis of Thee’ as she twisted her clarinet’s upper joint into its lower, or to murmur ‘Tip tip ... tight snug’ while she assembled her mouthpiece. Peterson watched her struggle with fingerings and reading notes, and recommended individual lessons to learn the basics. Adilene met with a young woman at the school once a week for lessons, and she practiced at home, but all of it came hard: new instrument, new town, new school, fewer kids who looked like her. Adilene stopped thinking about playing music and simply tried to mimic the students on either side of her. She became very quiet at school. In band, she tried to be invisible.


But Adilene wasn’t invisible. Steve Peterson had noticed the way her eyes strayed to the students on either side of her instead of staying on her music. After having her in his band for five months, he also realized that he had no idea what her voice sounded like: He’d never heard her speak. At the end of the year, he didn’t jump her ahead to eighth grade band. He thought she needed another year of catching up. But starting behind, she fell further behind. The Coronas stopped the private lessons; the twelve dollars each week seemed too much on top of the house payments. Adilene started to think of band as something she did to kill time between her other classes.