Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why Music Should Remain in Schools: A Sixth Grader's Perspective

Tonight as I was rummaging through old papers, I ran across interesting samples of my daughter's school work.  In particular, I found a short essay she wrote in sixth grade that responded to the prompt: "Music should remain part of the school curriculum because ..." I remember the night she wrote that essay because she entered it into an on-line essay contest and she had to struggle to keep the number of words under 250.  I also remember thinking  that it was good.  Tonight, I was even more intrigued by what she had to say because she made very important points.  Here is what she wrote:

"Music should remain part of the school curriculum because it taps into a different part of the soul that academics cannot reach.  Sure, a person can be good at math, or have amazing vocabulary skills, but music is another language.  It is different from everything else taught, and learning music is not something easily tapped into as an adult.

Part of why it is important to keep music in the curriculum is that most people are not in an environment where they are encouraged to take part in musical activities.  In school, a person has a chance to explore it.

Learning to play an instrument is a "life skill" that may help them later on because it increases their knowledge about the world.  In addition, it gives them something  interesting to talk about.  Knowing how to play an instrument creates activities where someone can meet others who share the same passion, even creating life-long friends.

Music is a powerful tool that people use to get their thoughts and feelings across.  It is an important part of our lives. Without it, forms of communication, venting emotions, and spiritual awareness could not be accessed.

As a society, how can we neglect something that makes us feel better after doing it?  How could we ever hope to achieve high levels of music making without proper education?  Music must remain part of our curriculum if we want to be an educated and happy society."  --Elibba Dean

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

In Context ...

Today I made an impromptu visit to the Advanced Voice Class at Penfield High School after working with Lindsay earlier in a senior English class.  It was fantastic to see everyone and to hear the voice class perform again because (1) they are awesome, and (2) it has been a little over a week since I heard them give their stunning performance at the Women in Music Festival in the Main Hall at Eastman School of Music.   

During today’s visit, they were continuing to rehearse one of the songs from the cycle, “#18 Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” It is the beginning song in the cycle, and at the start of the class, they had some questions about the work itself.  How did we envision it?  What was the feeling?  What was the moment?  For a composer, these kinds of questions are the most powerful moments in the collaborative process because the work is “speaking” to the performers.  This is evident BECAUSE the work is being questioned. 

What this means for us as composers is that the performers are trying to “get inside our heads” in order to understand how we thought about the work as we composed the music.  By asking these kinds of questions, they are comparing their own experiences with ours to gain insight and understanding.  In the case of #18, I described an early April morning at the edge of 2008 Lilac Festival at Highland Park.  This beautiful walk Lindsay and I took four years ago was the inspirational moment that we drew upon, and what directly contributed to our creation of the music. 

For a performer, this is an exciting step in understanding “Truth in Beauty” because each Shakespeare sonnet --in and of itself-- is already a complete work even without the music.  Also, each sonnet could be interpreted or understood differently when music is not present.  However, with the additional layer of music and musical form, a sonnet is transformed, and each sonnet within the cycle is shaped and interpreted by the actual construction of the composition.  This is why clarification is needed and why composer/performer interaction is so valuable.  This sophisticated process is what ultimately helps a performer interpret the work. 

 “Truth in Beauty” is an ensemble experience for the Advanced Voice Class, and their process is creating a masterful experience.  They are thinking of the work from an individual perspective and then contributing this thinking to a collaborative experience.  This is what makes them advanced singers, and this is what makes their work as singers so extraordinary.  Their thoughtfulness is placing everything in context and taking their performances to high levels.  The result is that they are living the text and expressing the essence.  For Lindsay and me, it is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling to work with such a talented director and intelligent singers and we are embracing the joy of every moment with them.