While his fifth-grade bandmates energetically prepared for band practice, Tony Boland quietly assembled his flute.
The 79-year-old might have a few more years of experience than the other Kennedy Elementary School band members, yet they all share a love for music.
"He's great. He's encouraging to the students around him," said Brian Enabnit, band director. "He's doing what he should most of the time."
With a hint of a smile, Boland added that he sometimes thinks he can conceal his mistakes a little better than the fifth-graders. Many of those students seem inspired by him.
"He's kind of a more experienced player," said Courtney Less, a fifth-grade band member. "All of us are messing up, but he doesn't."
Some of Boland's grandchildren attended Kennedy, and since 2001, he has volunteered at the school to help children with their reading. He recalls struggling to master the skill as a child. Boland now volunteers two days per week for two hours each day helping kindergartners with their alphabet and words.
The unique band was created 1 1/2 years ago when Boland asked Enabnit if he could practice with the students.
"It sounded like a good idea," Boland said.
He only started to play the flute in his 60s when his wife tossed around the idea of getting rid of their daughter's flute. To get better, Boland knew he needed practice.
"When you play alone, it's not as fast when you're playing in a band," he said.
Boland practices with the students weekly and has performed with the band, most recently at the Dubuque Community School District's Band Festival earlier this month.
"It's a wonderful experience for the kids ... to see this is something you can do forever," Enabnit said.
Boland joked that children who start in elementary school might be better at playing their instrument than if they start in their 60s.
Boland helped fifth- grader Andrew Johnson with reading when the student was younger. They now are bandmates.
"It's kind of cool that he can play the flute still," Andrew said.
With maturity comes advice. Boland said elementary school band members should "pay attention to the director, be attentive when he's speaking and enjoy yourself."