The Northfield High School Concert Band, directed by Mary Williams. (My son Will is in the second row, playing the oboe.)
Last night was the annual district band concert. Six bands from seven schools in the district (counting the two charter schools) packed into the high school gym—from fifth graders who've only been blowing on their instruments for three months to tuxedoed seniors with invitations to All State. The concert concluded with a ragtime piece featuring a guest trombone quartet, followed by a spectacular piece for combined bands, featuring all thirty-five trombonists lined up in front for a solo ensemble.
The fifth grade band, under the direction of the superhuman Roger Jenni, seemed bigger than ever. It's wonderful to see ample evidence, including the district band concert and the high school musical, that music education is thriving in the Northfield Public Schools. I mentioned in an earlier post that engagement is the best test preparation. One of the unfortunate effects of NCLB has been that some schools across the country have been forced to cut music programs in order to divert resources to preparation for standardized tests. Parent groups have been forced to organize fund raisers to save school music programs. Remember the old slogan: "It'll be a great day when schools get all the money they need and the Air Force needs to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber"? In the world of NCLB, schools are getting money to give standardized tests—the educational equivalent of a bomber—and holding bake sales to support music education.
A study published in June in the Journal of Research in Music Education confirms my suspicion that, in fact, music students in general score higher on standardized tests. Music nurtures the human intellect; it builds and strengthens connections in the brain that aren't built through test cramming. In Northfield, Roger Jenni—the fifth grade band teacher—is also the coordinator of testing and assessment for the school district. He loves a good bar graph of median norms as much as he loves a good quick march played by a room full of ten-year olds. But maybe that's okay. Maybe the soul-numbing effects of NCLB can be mitigated if those in charge at the local level, like Mr. Jenni, understand that standardized tests are, at best, diagnostic tools, not ends in themselves, and that real intellect is nurtured in the band room.
In other news: My birthday yielded the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book; season two of Dr. Who on DVD; the Library of America volume of Harte Crane's poetry and letters, signed by the editor; Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; a fifty-pound bag of organic Swany White Flour from Freeport, Minnesota; and a 27-ounce margarita.
My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .
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The frontispiece from Countee Cullen's The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929). Illustration by Charles Cullen. Click to enlarge. On...
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