Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Student Music in the Round Makes for the Well-Rounded Student

Pottstown High School Flute Ensemble was among several groups that visited Harrisburg March 6 and played in the Capitol Rotunda. From front left are: Marissa Somich, Evelyn Bailey, Danae Perrymond. Back row, from left, are Emily Griffin, Jenna Endy, Alesha James, Amira Mohammed.

As an amateur (very amateur) musician, I confess to having a partiality for music programs, both formal and informal.

I began with the clarinet in school and insisted my parents had to buy the instrument before I lost total interest in it.

Middle School Clarinet Ensemble, from left are: 
Casey Mest (Bass Clarinet), Nancy S. Mest, Isabelle Schiffler, Rachael
Levengood, Kyli McKee, Alivia Lopez and Alysha Soto.
Then it was on the bass clarinet, an unwieldy instrument that I tried to convince people was a much cooler (I thought) saxophone.

So, big surprise, I am a big advocate for school music programs. Not only do they epitomize the term "enrichment," but they also teach a valuable skill -- learning to read music.

As someone who could truthfully be described as being "math challenged," learning how to read music, understand how things are segmented into measures, the time, the speed was a kind of back-door math lesson I desperately needed and probably helped me crawl over the finish line for the New York State Regents tests.

(Those are kind of like the PSSAs, except they are a state-wide test in subjects like algebra, trigonometry, chemistry, physics and English -- and foreign languages as well.)

Pottstown Middle School Brass Ensemble, Ben Clarke, 
Chloe Francis, John Johnson, Donta Smith, Kyle Kratzer
and Christian Clarke play in the Capitol Rotunda in
As happened last year, it won't be long before the school board sits down to the unenviable task of trying to figure out how to fit is budget into the ever-smaller box Harrisburg provides for public education.

With little choice but to look at "non-mandated programs," the board will eventually come to the point where it considers cuts to art and music programs as they are non-mandated.

It is not an easy place to be, but let's hope they can find some other way. Not just because "enrichment" is what makes school more than just a chore, but because ultimately, music helps with those all-important test scores.

Consider this information from the University of Kansas, provided under the no-nonsense headline "Music boosts test scores:"

"In a time when emphasis on testing often has meant cutbacks for school music programs, a study by KU researcher Christopher Johnson shows that slashing music could undermine standardized test performance in math and English." 

Pottstown High School Clarinet Ensemble, from left front, 
Emily Kolbmann, Dakota Thorne(Bass Clarinet), Carly Mutter 
Back-Tatiana Robinson, Kelsie Andrews, Kelsey Shumaker, 
Katie Kolbmann
 "We picked schools that were elementary or junior high that were fairly well matched in every demographic, except what was going on in their music classrooms," said Johnson.

"We looked for classrooms that had outstanding music education going on and classrooms that were less than adequate," he said.

Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy and associate dean of the School of Fine Arts at KU, found jumps of 22 percent in English test scores and 20 percent in math scores at elementary schools with superior music education. Results were similar in middle schools.
One theory holds that higher scores result because music helps to develop attentiveness.

"When you sit down and do a standardized test you are on task trying to concentrate and focus for an extended period of time. And there's really not a lot of things in school that require you to that," said Johnson.

"You can do a couple of math problems, get off task, look at the wall. You know, read a couple of lines in English and zone out. But if you zone out in band you're likely to be playing a solo. If you zone out in choir, you might sing a solo - that has to be just as mortifying."

Middle School Flute Ensemble: From left, Emilie Lineman, 
Rashel Williams, Sara Dudley, Emily Greiss, Maxine Bacon, 
Sara Butler, Cluadia La, Ziarra Caballero.
But it is not because of how it might help his test scores (full disclosure alert!) that I'm pleased my 13-year-old is involved in Pottstown's music program. Rather, it is more because of the value of an enriching experience, a way to be part of a "team" that focuses on a different kind of ability.

As a parent and music appreciator, it is also a great pleasure to me that music is held in such high regard in this area. (When I was in high school, being in the marching band was not something your bragged about).

So it also gives me great pleasure to share with you some photos e-mailed to me by Nancy Mest, an instrumental music instructor in the Pottstown School District.

She wrote that "the Woodwind Ensembles from both Pottstown Middle School and Pottstown High School plus the Middle School Brass Ensemble traveled to our State Capitol in Harrisburg on Tuesday, March 6, 2012 to perform in the lunch time concert series held  as part of Music In Our School Month. 

Middle School Brass Ensemble
"Groups performed selections such as:  Amazing Grace, Colors of the Wind, Mission Impossible, Mozart's Allegro, Battle Hymn of the Republic, and Arkansas Traveler as well as others. 

"After the performance, student were photographed on the steps of the Rotunda followed my a tour of our State Capitol building," Mrs. Mest wrote.

Sadly, although our public schools treated them to a FREE musical performance, I tend to doubt it will move our state legislators to fund public education to the point that school boards will not have to consider cuts to the music program this year.

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