Monday, March 19, 2012

Mommy's Project 52:33 Musical

Well, I'm more than a day late, and probably more than a dollar short.  I hope I am forgiven.

Just last week I sent an e-mail to the fine arts teacher at my daughter's school.  Let me take a step back.  My daughter is in first grade.  Last year when she began kindergarten, I learned who all her teachers were and what classes she was going to and how she liked them all.  We scored big time with all day kindergarten, as well as the best kindergarten teacher on the planet.  Yes, on the planet.  I digress.

"Specials" are what some might call 'minors', 'extras', or whatever, indicating that they are outside the regular classroom curriculum, so I guess it does make some sense that they're called extras.  They, at least for us, include physical education (gym), library (libary, until recently), and fine arts.  Oh, I said, art?  So when do you have music.  "NO, Mom!  FINE ARTS (insert kindergartener emphasis)"!  To my surprise, fine arts is a combination music and visual arts class.  Hm.  Interesting.  I remember always having music and art, two different classes.  She gets it all rolled in to one.  How nice.

It didn't strike me too terribly at first.  I grew up in a school district that had fine arts coming out of every orifice, so we had two different classes, usually stocked with top teachers and top tools and equipment.  Not to sound uppity about it, but I really never fully grasped the idea that every kid didn't get this kind of thing.  I *knew* it, but it has taken me many years to fully grasp and understand the concept.  The concept - not every kid gets music class and/or art class growing up.

My daughter isn't being fully cheated, per se.  She still gets to learn how to draw little slivers of the sun in the corner of the page, how to use different media to convey her thoughts on paper, still gets to use that annoying nightmare to every parent glitter.  She still gets to learn funny songs and their corresponding hand motions, to learn about melodies and harmonies, and to communicate with others in the universal language of music.

I quickly learned that our grade school does not have an auditorium or other setting for assemblys or spring concerts.  Hell, they don't even have a lunch room or cafeteria.  I guess some genius back in the 60's decided it would be a grand idea to make one room with a tile floor and tables that fold out of the walls and call it a "multi-purpose room" and call it a day.  This room would have a makeshift food prep area where food would be delivered to the school for the kids to eat each day.  They don't even cook there.

I think my head just stopped spinning over this fact a few days ago.  No kitchen or cafeteria, and no assembly room or auditorium.  It will be no surprise, then, to know there is also not a proper music room or art room.  They are, indeed, one room.

The school (district) may have migrated from music and art to 'fine arts' over a period of years, but looking at the layout of this building, and not seeing a proper music room or art room, I rather doubt it.  This makes me sad on a few levels, but, you are not my therapist, and to my knowledge, blogging therapy the injuries to your eyes as you read my drivel are not covered by insurance.

Back to fine arts.  I learned, during kindergarten, that the kids get a decent shake in fine arts, and they do learn some songs and draw some pictures.  They're not totally cheated.  I am pleased that my daughter gets to spread her wings beyond the classroom and fuel her creative side for at least 40 minutes every few days at school.  That's right, they rotate their 'specials', so they get each (libary, gym, fine arts) one to two times a week, not daily.

Anyway, Ethel has learned many things through song.  The days of the week, the months of the year, and even the proper happy birthday greeting.  From Little Einsteins, my kids learned the music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.  In school, Ethel is learning rhythm, melody, and timing.  She comes home singing the songs she learns, and teaches them to her brother.  Fred is also enjoying the thrills of music at day care with a visiting music teacher once a week who introduces the kids to basic instruments like the triangle, the bean shaker, and simple drums.  They move to the music and use it to express themselves using their bodies, their ears, their voices, and their imaginations.

One thing I would hate for my children is for this kind of learning to be taken away from them altogether.  I cannot imagine a world where my kids can't march like elephants to the beat of a song, or sing their feelings, or learn how to use music to invigorate or calm themselves.  I can't imagine a world where my kids couldn't be silly for even 40 minutes a day singing and dancing their cares away.  I can't imagine being their teacher who has to handle them without these kinds of activities to revive their minds and allow them to release some steam.

That is why I e-mailed Ethel's fine arts teacher, Mr. P, earlier this month to make sure he knew that I am a supporter of his work, and that I support Music in our Schools Month.  For more than 20 years now, music has been the focus in schools during the month of March in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of music in school.

The first Saturday in March, our school district put on a district-wide fine arts festival.  Hosted at the junior high school, art work from children in all grades, and from all the district schools, was displayed throughout the school.  Ethel had a "self portrait" on display, and we recognized many pieces in the gallery created by friends of her's, and other kids we know throughout the district.

Most impressive was the opportunity to hear the choirs from the elementary schools and the junior high, as well as the junior high orchestra.  Oddly, to me, orchestras in this school district are strings only, no winds or brass, and it's taking me a long time to get used to that.  Still, the group gave a nice performance, and it was a pleasure to have the chance to hear them.

Ethel and Fred were most impressed by the choir from Ethel's school.  Ethel loved watching her fine arts teacher direct the group of 4th and 5th graders through four songs of varying difficulty.  Both kids thought it was awesome that they recognized one of the songs as one we play at home, Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World".  I enjoyed seeing a teacher who limited the play list to a few songs with individual degrees of difficulty (harmonies, rondos, and tempo changes), rather than packing in multiple songs that pose no challenge to the kids, allowing them to be bored and lose interest quickly, and show it on their faces.  These kids were not bored.  Scared, perhaps, but not bored, and they did a great job with the tough songs that were chosen for this event.

I said as much in my e-mail to Mr. P.  I told him I thought his kids did well, and that I recognized that he wasn't letting the kids get away with easy songs.  I let him know that I support music in school, and that I stand behind his efforts as the fine arts teacher.  I let him know that I hoped he would add some musical touches throughout the day, even at times that weren't set aside for 'fine arts'. I offered him any volunteer assistance I can provide.

Mr. P kindly replied and let me know that he is a member of the National Association for Music Education, and that he includes music throughout the day in any way possible.  He acknowledge my message about the festival performances, and he thanked me for my offer to volunteer.

There are 11 days left in March.  You have plenty of time in this month to support music in your school by going to a school concert, volunteering to help in your child's music class, or taking your child(ren) to a performance at another school or by a professional musician or group.  You don't have to limit it to the month of March, though.  Look at the school calendar and find a spring concert, an Easter performance at a local church, or a community theater musical.  We spent a Sunday afternoon recently watching the 25th anniversary performance of Phantom of the Opera, which introduced the kids to the genre of opera, and the idea of a storyline carried out in song.  The kids were glued to it, and for me it brought back memories from high school when I played my two cassette sound track over and over and over and over, singing it as loudly as I could whenever I was alone had the chance.

Music is a gift, and it's the language we all can speak.  Without music in our schools, we would slowly lose the magic and brilliance of the people who bring us theme songs, sound effects, and sound tracks.  What fun would a cartoon be without the music in the background?  Our TV shows would all be like 60 Minutes - no theme music.  There would be no karoke.

OK, nevermind that last one.

If my laptop hadn't died, I'd be leaving you with my beat boxing son who was pounding out rhythms and dancing to them before he could speak.  Suffice it to say, we are a musical bunch.