Random Thoughts at a Middle School Concert


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Students exit middle school concert at Linn-Mar High School as a performer on stage stows his tools.

I’ve written before about how important a student newspaper is to a university and to students’ experience in school. I firmly believe that one reason student media are important at colleges is the beyond-classroom experiences students gain.

That general idea applies to other areas of school at other levels.

On Tuesday night, I attended a granddaughter’s orchestra concert at Linn-Marr High School. She’s a student at Excelsior Middle School; it was a fifth- and sixth-grade concert.

The music was, well, not always all that musical. The fifth graders are in their first year of formal school music, learning how to hold their instruments, how to read music, little hands and little bodies sometimes dwarfed by their tools.

What a difference a year makes. The change from fifth to sixth grade is pretty dramatic. When these kids get to high school, they’ll be making beautiful music.

And if the chords and harmonies didn’t always excite the pleasure centers of my brain, still, good for you, kiddos. Even if you’re just starting on your music journey, I’m glad that your school provides you with this opportunity and that you are learning.

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Teacher conducts middle-school orchestra.

And yet, it also makes me a little sad.

After all, Linn-Mar is mostly a suburban school district with a pretty good property tax base. In school terms, it’s a relatively well-off district, and that is reflected in its facilities and programs. Extra-curricular activities aren’t always so well-funded or robust in smaller, rural districts or poorer urban ones.

Even here, in a fairly well-off district that has opportunities for anyone, a family needs to commit resources to provide an instrument if a child wants to be in orchestra. And there is already a haves vs have-nots stratification even at early levels—in my granddaughter’s orchestra program there is an audition-only group. I don’t know this for a fact, but I suspect that most members of that group have relatively affluent parents who have paid for private lessons that help their children achieve a higher level earlier in life.

I don’t want to seem critical of a mom or dad who is driving junior to evening or weekend lessons at a private music academy. Good for them. I just hope public schools work hard to make sure that the kid from a marginal home where private lessons aren’t an option can get opportunities, too.

Anyway, that’s not really what I want to write about. Mostly, I am thrilled that so many families have introduced their children to music. My granddaughter will probably never be a stat, but she plays the cello and sings in chorus in middle school and seems to enjoy both.

As a parent and grandparent and citizen of a country that needs an educated citizenry, I am a huge fan of school arts programs in all forms. Music, drama, dance, chorus—they all celebrate and encourage creativity, give students a bright peer cohort to pal around with and generally brighten what for almost all of us is a difficult time in life.

Sure, almost nobody will play the cello as a career. The point of the activity isn’t just the literal activity, but the depth of the experience it fosters.

Last week, a student and I attended the Iowa College Media Association Convention. It was a good time, a fun event, and the student paper that I advise got some awards.

Which is nice. Nicer still is the reality I see every day, that the existence of a paper has an importance I appreciate; like a middle school orchestra struggling to get the right notes at the right time, writers at the “Mount Mercy Times” are honing their craft.

Play on, kids. And may every Iowa and every American student go to a school that can offer them many creative arts opportunities—to me, the arts are something that every child should have access to.

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My granddaughter’s arm and hand are in this image, as she plays one of the cellos among her fellow cellos.

1 Comment

Filed under Grandchildren, Journalism, Writing

One response to “Random Thoughts at a Middle School Concert

  1. Carolyn Sternowski

    Learning to be a creative person
    Learning to work as part of a team
    laying in neural pathways that can be used for any kind of information later
    Learning to be comfortable in front of an audience
    Music is Science
    Music is Math
    Music is History
    Music is Art
    Music is core curriculum

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