MASON CITY — As a first-year teacher, Malcolm Burke wants to pass along his love of music to his students.
Burke, 23, has picked up the baton as Mason City High School’s new orchestra director.
Originally from Elgin, Illinois, Burke is a seasoned cello and trombone player. He recently graduated with a degree in music education from the University of Northern Iowa.
“The kids really felt comfortable with him right from the get-go,” said Russ Kramer, the school’s band director and chair of instrumental music. “That’s a big deal with us.”
Kramer acted as an interim orchestra teacher last year.
“He’s got a certain magnetism, or charisma, if you want to call it that,” Kramer said of Burke.
“He asks good questions,” Kramer said. “Having the diversity of musical experiences he had coming in, this made him extremely well-suited to this position.”
Last week, on the first day of rehearsals, Burke helped students practice scales and picked four basic pieces to ease them back into the routine from the summer.
“I think the students, they are very eager to learn and very eager to jump into the experience as well,” Burke said.
He started playing cello in fourth grade and picked up the trombone the next year, he said. He was inspired by high school teachers to become a music teacher.
Growing up, he spent holidays in Iowa at his grandfather’s farm in Jesup.
“The biggest thing for me is to have (students) enjoy the rehearsal, because that was one of the reasons why I stayed in it,” Burke said.
“Even if they don’t play their instrument (after high school), they may go see live music ... and support the arts when they have kids,” he added.
Currently, the program has 48 students including seven freshmen — a steady increase from last year, according to Kramer.
“There are quite a number of (Class) 4A schools that do not have an orchestra program,” Kramer said. “It is a real blessing … for our students to have that opportunity.”
Earlier this year, the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation recognized Mason City as one of nearly 500 best communities for music education in the country.
“We’re not naive enough or foolish enough to think that all of our kids will become professional musicians or music teachers,” Kramer said. “We want our kids to embrace music of all kinds.
“Knowing that some of them may not continue playing after high school, we focus on a lot of character development,” he said. “You have to work hard to get it to be good.
“It’s the feeling for the kids ... (that) they don’t settle on mediocrity for the rest of their lives. If they don’t play music anymore after high school ... they will take that with them forever.”