Mountain Town Music sets its sites on education
February 17, 2012
Last Monday, jazz pianist Frederick McCray played three, short-solo recitals in the library at McPolin Elementary School to officially kick off Mountain Town Music’s education program.
The interactive hour-long sets gave students a glimpse of the world of jazz and introduced new vocabulary words such as "improvisation" and "compositions," things they aren’t exposed to while listening to over-produced Top 40 hits on their MP3 players, said MTM director Brian Richards. "The plan is to develop a program that we can offer to all of schools in the area," he said.
"The program is designed to create an appreciation of music as an art form, and not just a pop-culture thing," Richards told The Park Record. "We want the students to understand that music isn’t just about Lady Gaga or Kanye West, because we want them to know that there is music out there that has affected cultures for thousands of years.
"Music had existed in many forms as long as man has existed, and we want to use it as an educational tool," he said. "We don’t want to go in and just throw a concert and be done, because music has so much more to offer."
The music education is something MTM has talked about a few years, but never really sat down to do it, Richards said.
"While we do host an educational concert series at Deer Valley that already feature music students from throughout Summit County that play before the headliner on Wednesdays during the summer, we have always wanted to do more," he said.
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This year, MTM was able to start developing the program when Jennifer Hamlin, whose daughter attends McPolin, stepped up to volunteer.
"Jennifer expressed interest to help with the program, and came on board specifically to develop the program, and to see that dedication was priceless," he said.
Although this is the program’s inaugural year, Hamlin already has a plateful of goals and ideas.
"Our focus with the program is on the elementary-level classes," she said. "We’re starting out in two schools, McPolin Elementary and Parley’s Park and are working with them to learn their needs."
One thing that has been requested is for MTM to introduce kids to different musical instruments.
"They asked that because when these students reach sixth grade, they have to identify what instrument they want to play, and most of them haven’t had any kind of exposure to an array of what they can play," Hamlin said.
The schools also asked MTM to introduce their students to different sounds and styles, and while McCray’s recitals were tied into February, which is Black History Month, Hamlin is looking forward to St. Patrick’s Day in March.
"The next live-music session will be a full assembly, and we’ll have members of the band Swagger to teach about Irish immigrants and their influence on American culture," she said.
Still, further down the road, MTM is planning a concert and workshop session at the Egyptian Theatre with a band called Brothers of the Baladi, a Grammy Award-nominated band from Oregon that plays Middle Eastern songs, Hamlin said. With performances such as theses, MTM has the potential to introduce students to their own cultural voices.
"One of the messages we want to teach is diversity," she said. "We want the kids to understand their own identity, which includes the personal voice that comes from inside themselves as well as the other that is more culturally based. Those concepts combined give the kids a good basis for self-discovery."
Jodi Lundmark, the music specialist at McPolin Elementary, said the MTM program will be a great addition to the music lessons she teaches.
"As a music teacher, the goal is to get the kids interested and excited about music," Lundmark said. "I want them to know music and, more importantly, know how to listen to music, how to enjoy it and play it.
"When Brian and Jennifer approached me, I told them that we needed to present interactive concerts where the kids can ask questions and hear a lot of varieties," she said. "We brainstormed about what we wanted the kids to be exposed to that they wouldn’t normally get."
As Lundmark prepared for the McCray presentations, she adjusted her curriculum.
"I worked with my students in the past couple of weeks on improvisation and scat singing those little elements of jazz," she said. "When they got to hear (those things) live when Fred McCray in concert, it did something to them."
In fact, one of the kids said he was going to go home and teach his brother how to play jazz.
"This boy is five years old, so how much does he know?" Lundmark said. "Well, he knew the word jazz and he was excited about it, and that will stay with him, because of these experiences we will expose to them while they are young."
That is why Lundmark believes in the importance of keeping music in the schools.
"I really hope people start to understand how important it is for kids to be taught music by real music teachers and musicians," she said.
Richards said MTM’s music program is still in a developmental stage, but that, in itself, is good because it’s flexible.
"We can mold the program like Play-Doh to fit the needs of the schools and the educators," he said. "We want it to be a resource that can be used as they deem necessary and augment their teachings.
"As we move forward and reflect 10 years down the road on what our legacy was, we want to have an affect on the community and especially the students," he said.
For more information about Mountain Town Music and its music program, visit http://www.mountaintownmusic.org.