Musical Motivator

SUNSET PARK An orchestra's public performances are turned into learning experiences.

Published May 4, 2007

Music teacher Edward Thanz books his students for 20-plus gigs a year at some unusual concert halls: Legends Field, Sam's Club and Plant Park.

Public performances boost self-confidence, the Coleman Middle School instructor said. Live audiences add incentive to mastering technical skills.

"He showcases Coleman all over the place, " said principal Mike Hoskinson. "They're constantly performing, and you feel like you should be paying to see them."

To Thanz, 49, just as important as teaching chords is teaching community service. He takes the students off campus to entertain at retirement centers, churches and hospitals. Thanz has been volunteering since he was 9 or 10 and played clarinet and sang Beatles songs at a nursing home.

Coleman had no performing orchestra when Thanz arrived in 1998. For five years, the strings specialist floated between Coleman, two other middle schools and five elementary schools.

The 1979 University of Florida graduate is certified in music, gifted education and exceptional student education.

But by 2003, Thanz had attracted 140 students to the program, and directing the orchestra became his full-time position.

Sometimes it was a hard sell.

"Middle school students are not rushing to play violin, " he said.

Incoming sixth-graders explore a wheel of electives their first semester, spending 10 to 15 days rotating through art, Spanish, computers, technology, band, orchestra and physical education classes.

From those options, they pick a daily, 50-minute class to focus on during the second semester.

To build an orchestra, Thanz called on his own experiences as a musician.

"In high school, the chorus room was my second home, " he said. His bag of tricks includes encouragement, endless patience and the promise of "hard work and a lot of fun, " he said.

Thanz arrived early and left late. Students came to count on the music room as "a place to feel safe and fit in."

"Probably 80 percent of us never played in our lives, and now we sound like we know what we're doing, " said Taylor Croizat, 14. She intends to continue her orchestra training at Plant High next year.

"He's here at 7 a.m. for practice and stays after school for rehearsal, " said seventh-grader Martha Morrissey, 13.

"And he makes good song choices, " added eighth-grader Lauren Waller, 13. Thanz mixes popular tunes, blues, jazz and country, with classical music.

His influence continues beyond the Coleman years. Former student Nick McKaig, 18 and soon to graduate from Plant High, dropped by last week to give Thanz tickets to see him perform at the Patel Conservatory.

"He made it cool to be in orchestra, " said McKaig. Once Thanz taught him how to use composition software, he was hooked.

McKaig is still writing music, playing cello and French horn and will major in commercial music at the University of Miami.

Thanz's long-lasting impact doesn't surprise parents like Christine Posada.

She has watched her bass-playing son Tony, 14, mature as his orchestra ability developed.

"He puts the opportunity in front of them and, if it's in their soul, he brings it out of them, " said Posada.

Amy Scherzer can be reached at ascherzer@sptimes.com or 813 226-3332.