Lewis Griswold

Griswold: Traver school music program gets national merit award

When music teacher Julie Bernsen began working 11 years ago at Traver Elementary School in Tulare County, only a handful of students participated in band.

Now, more than 90 students in grades five through eight play clarinet, trumpet, flute or other wind or percussion instruments.

This month, Traver Elementary was one of 66 primary and secondary schools in the nation to receive a 2013 Support Music Merit Award from the National Association of Music Merchants "for providing students with access to comprehensive music education."

A research team from the University of Kansas chose the award winners from a pool of more than 200 schools. Eight in California made the list, including Traver and Fresno Christian schools.

For Bernsen, the award is a tribute to Traver's students and the parents, teachers and supporters who believe in them.

In a community that's tiny and poor, and with a school of only 230 students, "we get overlooked," she said.

Bernsen lives in Kingsburg, but people in Fresno might know her as the singer for Julie Noe & Co. big band, which performed at the Ronald McDonald House Red Heart Ball in November.

Superintendent Steve Ramirez called Bernsen "a godsend" and "tireless advocate" for the school.

Bernsen said she believes a dramatic statistic helped earn the national award: eight of her seventh- and eighth- grade musicians were selected for the region's Junior High Honor Band.

"I was so happy," she said. "We have great kids and we are so proud of them."

To get into honor band, students perform solo before experts from the Tulare-Kings Music Educators Association, competing against middle school students from two counties.

To have eight students from a small school selected for honor band is "phenomenal," said Ken Lange, 85, of Visalia, who has donated about 50 instruments to Traver school.

He credits Bernsen. "You've seen the Music Man? She's the music woman," he said.

Music education is a team effort, Bernsen said.

Visalia Breakfast Rotary and Tulare County Symphony League support the program, parents hold fundraisers, Kingsburg High students tutor students, and wind symphony conductor Gary Gilroy at Fresno State stops in once a year, for which he gets a dozen frozen tamales made by parents.

Traver sixth-grader Jorge Diaz plays trumpet.

"We play a lot of fun songs," he said, such as "Boogie Woogie Swing Blues."

"They love playing that," Bernsen said.

Other tunes in the Traver repertoire include "Washington Post March" by John Philip Sousa and "Cielito Lindo."