March is Music in Our Schools Month

Mar 22, 2013
March is Music in our Schools Month! I personally think classes in the arts are integral to a young person’s education, especially whenbrain research shows that not only does music improve skills in math and reading, but it promotes creativity, social development, and builds confidence. Some of my fondest memories from school involve a choir room or art studio, in fact, sometimes I think I may have learned more in my music or pottery classes than other “core curriculum” subjects. But I may be a little biased; my mother has been a music teacher for 32 years. I thought, what better person to chat with about Music in Our Schools Month than her? She teaches music at The William Penn Charter School to grades fifth, sixth, and eighth grade students and directs multiple choirs. She agreed to answer a few questions about what she teaches, how music is becoming “cool” again, and the important role music plays in a child’s education. Thanks, Mama! Tell us a little bit about what kids are learning in your classes? In my 8thGrade general music class, students learn the musical elements of West Africa, the Caribbean, and blues music in the United States. Students will learn how West African musical characteristics such as call and response, syncopation, and improvisation combined with European musical elements to influence Caribbean and American musical forms and styles. They learn African-styledrumming, marimba ensemble, guitar, keyboard, to play and sing calypso and reggae from the Caribbean, and they finish up by learning the 12 bar blues. (Here’s an example of them in action!) My mother, Debbie! I also teach 5th and 6thGrade General Music, where students study music theory, ear training, use music technology like GarageBand and Finale, and learn to play chromatic xylophones, drums, keyboard, and guitar. Federal funding for the arts and humanities is about $250 million a year, while the National Science Foundation is funded around the $5 billion mark. And when schools are faced with budget cuts, music programs are among the first to go. As amusicteacher, how do you feel about this? It is a shame when school districts consider cutting back in the arts a necessity in tight economic times because they see the arts as “extras” and not essential to brain development. In our school, many of the students who participate in national academic competitions and earn high scores on national science and language exams are the same students who play for our jazz bands and string ensembles, sing in choir, or go out for the all-school musical. Those of us who teach in the arts know that this is no accident. We believe that the children who have opportunities to develop real skill, participate in ensembles, or take creative risks in their improvisation and compositions are the same children who go on to excel in many academic areas. Schools that offer a comprehensive arts education are not only helping students to be well-rounded and socially well-adjusted individuals, but also support a broader spectrum of stimulation that growing minds need in order to reach their potential in all areas of learning. How do you think kids’ perceptions of music and musiceducationhas changed with television shows like “Glee” and “AmericanIdol”? These popular TV shows have definitely elevated the arts to the status of “cool”. Being “cool” (confident, talented, social) is not just for athletes anymore. I think a positive aspect of shows like “Glee” is that young people see that the arts are for everyone. If you have a passion for singing, acting, dancing, and performance in general you can join a group, pick up an instrument, or learn GarageBand. Membership in our upper school choirs is at an all-time high. Belonging to a singing group is now part of the culture and not just for those bound for the music conservatory. “Glee” and “American Idol” have also helped students to learn about a variety of musical genres and enjoy older pop classics. I am currently teaching “Blackbird” by the Beatles. When I passed the music out in chorus last week, several of my sixth grade boyssaid, “ I heard this on Glee!” The guitar is making a comeback among students who wish to accompany themselves while they sing. A fad among upper school kids is to learn to play the ukelele. Some even have electric ones! Our midi lab is one of the hottest spots on campus. Students are drawn to creating, recording, and producing their own music. Thanks to social media and YouTube, everyone who wants to can be a recording artist. Arts for all. You said it, Mom. For more information on Music in Our Schools Month and how you can get involved, check out the National Association for Music Education’s website. image via dee_gee.