Tapping tunes

Lon and Kathy Bartling demonstrate how the sticks are used with Kristeen Hanson, Heritage Elementary School Music instructor.

Two retired Waunakee teachers are staying busy during this pandemic, ensuring that elementary students can continue their music education whether learning at home or in school.

Lon and Kathy Bartling are supplying all of the students at the three Waunakee elementary schools with rhythm sticks, crafting them on their own in their garage.

Heritage music instructor Kristeen Hanson, along with the other music teachers, wanted a way to get instruments to the students that they could take home, Kathy Bartling said.

“They can’t share instruments now,” Bartling said.

Their idea was to start with rhythm sticks, wooden dowel rods students can tap rhythms with.

But the cost for the 3,100 rhythm sticks needed – two per student — was prohibitive for the district, Bartling said. She estimated the cost at $4,600.

She and Lon both had woodworking experience and tools, so they took on the challenge of crafting them on their own at a much lower cost — $800.

They tried to order dowel rods, which are manufactured at 36 inches in length, from Wisconsin stores like Menards and Lowes.

“There were not enough wooden dowels in the state of Wisconsin,” Bartling said.

And so the Bartlings turned to Maine, where the stores find their supplies.

“We would get them much cheaper than in Wisconsin,” she said.

When she called the company in Maine, Bartling said she needed a big order – 1,500 dowels.

“The woman laughed and said, ‘All we’ve got in Maine is trees,’” Bartling said.

After the shipment arrived at the Bartlings’ home, she and Lon set about cutting and sanding the 36-inch dowel rods into 12-inch sections and boxing them up to deliver to the schools.

They recently delivered 1,100, enough Bartling said, to probably supply grades K-1.

“The idea is kids can make music right now. That is really limited on the computer,” Bartling said.

For the former educators, the project not only keeps them busy during the pandemic but keeps them connected with the schools and the students.

“Lon and I spent a lot time in classrooms, and even when we retired, we volunteered in people’s classrooms. We can do that in isolation now and we really miss kids. This is a way we can contribute from home,” Bartling said.

While many folks at home are ordering necessities rather than shopping in person, the Bartlings’ delivery was unusually large.

“We were the talk of the neighborhood when the Fed-Ex truck pulled up,” Bartling said.

The one downside to crafting the sticks at home has been the mess. Bartling said both cars in the garage are covered in sawdust.

But the students will benefit from them. Kris Hanson, music instructor at Heritage, said they are a good tool for learning rhythm.

“It’s a good way to teach the kids to keep a steady beat,” Hanson said.

She said she knew if she needed a project done, Bartling was the one to call.

Bartling said rhythm sticks have been used for many years.

“Folk dancing has sticks in it. It’s been in folk dancing for hundreds of years. Also, there’s a lot of children’s games that go with sticks. They learn rhythms and keeping a steady beat, and they learn repetitive movement that goes with playing other instruments and listening skills,” Bartling said.

For the Bartlings, the project has been a welcome break from the long pandemic.

“It keeps us busy. It’s good to be busy in a pandemic and doing something you feel is useful,” Kathy Bartling said.

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