James Baldwin lobbied hard for the part.

After all, the band would be playing "We Will Rock You," by Queen, his all-time favorite rock band. And it would be his first time playing percussion with a full band.

"When we played that, I wanted to make sure that I would be the one playing the bass drum," Baldwin said. "I would be the one playing that beat."

And he was.

Baldwin kept the beat when some 170 fourth- through sixth-graders from 39 area elementary and middle schools came together April 1 for the Louisiana Music Educators Association District IV Beginners Honor Band concert.

The district includes public, parochial and private schools in East and West Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston and Pointe Coupee parishes, along with the area east of the Mississippi River in Ascension and St. James parishes. 

Like his bandmates, Baldwin, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at The Dunham School, was chosen for the Beginners Honor Band on a band director's recommendation.

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"There are no auditions for this band as there are for the older bands," said organizer Bardie Roberts, who also works for the honor band's sponsor, Zeagler Music. "This is our fifth year of putting this band together, and this is the first time the majority of these kids have played with a full band with all the instruments."

Baldwin knows that's true. He's the only drummer in a class of eight, all of whom began playing their instruments at the beginning of the school year. Meaning, they not only had to learn how to blow their horns but also how to read music.

And now, as the end of the school year nears, they are about to play their first concert in the Sherwood Middle gym.

Guest clinician Katie Codina rehearses the band in the morning, teaching the five songs students will be performing in the afternoon concert and also general music rules. She encourages them to learn the names of the kids sitting on either side of them.

"So many of them make new friends in this setting," she said later. "They're able to meet kids from other schools who have similar interests. My best friend and I met in honor band."

Codina also is director of bands at Central Middle School in Gonzales with eight of her sixth-graders in the honor band. She's been conducting honor bands for the last 10 years, and she enjoys this age group's enthusiasm.

"Things are new for them, and they're eager to learn new things," she said. "It's a great honor to have the opportunity to work with them, though it's such a short amount of time."

The young musicians began working on their five-song concert lineup at 9 a.m. Fellow middle and elementary school band directors lent a hand, instructing students in different sections. Patti Roussel, East Ascension High School band director, also helped out. She taught the beginners band four years ago.

"This age group is a lot of fun," she said, "and this is a great experience for them, because most of them have never been in a band this size."

"And they're so eager to impress you," said Bill Barbay, Prairieville Middle School's band director. "They just want to learn everything they can and impress everyone."

And for Baldwin, the opportunity to impress comes when he picks up the bass drum mallet for "Power Rock."

"That's a song with music that their parents remember," Codina said. "It'll give them a chance to connect with their parents when they play it today."

But it means more to Baldwin.

"I'm a big fan of Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody,'" he said. "That song isn't in 'Power Rock,' but some of their other music is, and I can't wait to play it."

Musicians break for lunch at noon, then take their seats in front of the gym's capacity-filled stands at 1 p.m. The concert isn't long, maybe 12 minutes at the most, but it ends with the grand finale of "Power Rock."

And when Baldwin hits the final beat of the "We Will Rock You" chorus, the crowd roars as if it has witnessed the world's greatest rock band in concert.

But it's something better.

"These are their kids playing in a full band," Roberts said. "And they're proud."   

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.