Rutherford Elementary School is one of nine K-6 elementary schools in Stillwater Independent School District #834. Rutherford has over 600 students. It has an open learning environment with grade level classes clustered in houses. We have 40-minute classes in a 6-day rotating schedule for our specialist block, students seeing the music and physical education specialist twice in 6 days and the art and media once in the rotation. Grade level classroom teachers have common prep time daily. We are led by our supportive principal, Heather Nelson. Next fall, our district will be transitioning to K-5 elementary schools with two middle schools hosting grades 6-8 and one high school grades 9-12.

The elementary classroom music district wide resources “The Gameplan – An Active Music Curriculum,” by Jeff Kriske and Randy Delelles.” Our focus is to incorporate Kodaly and Orff in our elementary music curricular approach.

Over the course of the school year, we try and give students in each grade level an opportunity to share their talents and demonstrate their developing skills. In December the Kindergarteners present the songs and share activities they have been learning in the music classroom for their families. In the Spring in Kindergarten, we celebrate Mayday while dancing and singing around the Maypole.



May day

On the last day of school, the kindergarteners sing at the 6th Grade Graduation the “Kindergarten Wall” song by John McCutcheon for all the 6th Graders and their families as they prepare to leave the school.

First and Second Graders present a musical in May featuring a theme we have worked on throughout the year. Examples include “Peace,” promoting our school-wide Peace Buddies working groups and “Reading & Singing,” promoting literacy in all academic and arts areas. The program this year is dedicated to “Friendship.”

Each year Third Grade students individually build a dulcimer. Twin Cities artists Ross Sutter and Karen Mueller lead a residency in which each student makes a one-string dulcimer. Thanks to the generosity of our PTA, a grant defrays the costs of the residency and dulcimer kit. Students then learn to play several songs over the next few weeks and share them in a classroom concert with our invited guest audience. As a final assessment, each student selects one song from the repertoire to perform for the class. During 2015-2016 we received a “Big Impact Grant” from The Partnership Plan for all district Third Graders to build a dulcimer as well as participate in a Science of Sound residency at each elementary school. Along with the dulcimer kit and whistles the Science of Sound incorporated one of the grad standards for this grade level. This opportunity to coordinate cross circularly is very beneficial in strengthening the student’s understanding of sound. It is reinforced the following year when students are learning to play the recorder.



Playing Dulcimers



The past several years on May 15th the Third Grade Class from Rutherford has sung patriotic songs at the Washington County “Law Enforcement Memorial” on the steps of the Historic Courthouse in Stillwater in partnering with the band from Stillwater High School and the director, Dennis Lindsay.

Singing at the Courthouse

Fourth Graders learn to play the recorder in the spring of the year. This unit lines up with the recruiting done by the instrumental department for the students interested in starting a band or orchestra instrument the following year in Fifth Grade. The past 2 years I have coordinated a Big Impact Grant with our Partnership Plan so that 600 District 834 4th Graders all can attend a “Young People’s Concert” at Orchestra Hall at no cost to the students. It is quite amazing to look across the main level of Orchestra Hall and see the future graduating class of 2025 representing Stillwater District!



Young People’s Concert at Orchestra Hall

In Fifth Grade and Sixth Grade Rutherford Students can choose to either play a band or orchestra instrument and/or sing in choir. We have a music block with large group rehearsals at the end of the day with choir first followed by the instrumental groups. Students have the opportunity to be part of a choral as well as an instrumental setting if they so choose. Fifth and Sixth Graders have separate 30 minute choir rehearsals once every 6 days. We have two daytime concerts in December and May featuring all groups of Choir, Band, and Orchestra. The instructors for our school are Megan Holroyd for band and Cassandra Herold for orchestra.



The Choir

For six weeks in January and February, Yvonne Danielson (retired music teacher from Rutherford and long time mentor) and I direct an all-district 5/6 honor choir we founded 12 years ago called CANTARE. Students in the choir are recommended by their music teacher, and we rehearse for 90 minutes on six Tuesdays at Stillwater Junior High with a culminating concert performance in mid February. Following the concert the choir directors and elementary music teachers host a District 834 Elementary Choral Festival, featuring all the 5/6 Elementary Choirs singing three Massed Choir pieces they have learned, conducted by the Junior High and High School music directors, Sue Gilsdorf, Rachel Schmeltzer, Katelyn Larson and Angela Mitchell. Also featured at the concert are CANTARE, the two Junior High Chamber Choirs performing together, and the Stillwater High School Concert Choir. The musical gathering is culminated in a stunning performance of “America, The Beautiful” by all of the musicians spanning eight years of singers joined together in song.

America the Beautiful


Red Bleachers

The Rutherford 5-6th Grade Choir has had several opportunities to perform with the Stillwater Area High School Orchestra and Jazz Band in Lullaby Concerts and the SAHS Percussion Ensemble at OAKE National Conference in Minneapolis “From Acorn to OAKE.” All of these collaborative experiences are so beneficial in the development of young musicians establishing a solid foundation on their musical journey and experiencing mentorship by those students who have traveled along the same path serving as a source of inspiration.

In the fall of 2016, the Fifth and Sixth Grade Students at Rutherford participated in a mini musical featuring songs from “The Lion King.” This was a project that involved the art teacher, Lea Brynestad, and choreographer, Mickey Farmer. With funds awarded from The Partnership Plan – the Ruth Geary Arts Grant, and the Rutherford PTA, students in art class batiked a tunic, made sashes with African-inspired woodblock prints they created, and head dresses of animals worn as they entered on the song, “The Circle of Life.”

Can You Feel The Love

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Each class learned choreography to one of the songs the others were singing and performed it on stage. Students played varying instruments to help accompany songs including boomwhackers in chords harmonizing on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Many of the songs offered solo opportunities to students along with speaking lines.



Lion King

Each September, the Fifth and Sixth Grade Rutherford Elementary Choir sings The National Anthem at the Stillwater Ponies Football Game on VAA night.



Singing the National Anthem

One week in January the Physical Education teacher, Sheila Folden, and I team together with a “Music and Motion” unit in the gym. A certified dance/fitness instructor, Mickey Farmer, supported through our PTA, assists us in this active and creative musical endeavor. We combine our classes and spend the week participating in several types of movement to music – varying from yoga to zumba to folk dances to name a few, all creatively designed and led by Mickey. It’s a great way to help get through a long, cold month!

We have had many different types of residencies throughout the years, featuring drumming with Sowah Mensah of Macalaster College, Mozart with MN Opera, and most recently, T. Mychael Rambo and Anita Ruth came to Rutherford as a part of the Vocal Essence – Witness – Underground Railroad Concert.

For many years, upper elementary students have auditioned and been accepted into National OAKE Choirs and All-State ACDA Choirs.

The elementary music teachers in our district all gather in a PLC meeting approximately 1-2 times a month and work together on Professional Development days. The Stillwater elementary music team is comprised of Kate Webster, Lori Obr, Mary Jo Vene, Kathy Clarys, Lauren Benish, Kayla Swanson and Irene Saponara-Gottwalt. At Rutherford we have monthly PLC meetings with the specialists in our school where we are studying the book “Responsive Classroom for Music, Art, PE and Other Special Areas” lead by our instructional coach, Wendy Schmalz. Periodically, we have meetings with all music educators in the district K-12 – Choir, Band, Orchestra, and Elementary Music.

Since the days of student teaching long ago, I have always had first and foremost at the top of my lesson plans as the number one goal “To instill a love of music” in my students. This is in addition to helping to create in them a well established, firm foundation for the future growth that will develop as they become more accomplished musicians in junior high, high school, and beyond. We are very fortunate in the Stillwater District to have had that path laid out with the 28 years of leadership by Dr. Erik Christiansen, so many outstanding music educators including Rachel Schmeltzer, Sue Gilsdorf, Katelyn Larson, and Angela Mitchell, and a long history of excellence in the music department in choir, orchestra, and band.

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