Friday, November 9, 2007

The District Band Concert

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.


Jim H. said...

Music was central to my education. Growing up in a town that once billed itself as "The Band Instrument Capital of the World," we were lucky to have top-notch music teachers, both in the schools and as private practitioners. My drum teacher, Harold Firestone, was an icon and probably the most dedicated professional I've ever encountered.

All three of my children were involved in music (band, choir, musical theatre, garage bands). There is no question -- music is essential.

Jim Haas

Penny said...

Anyone who knows me knows I'm totally with you on this one. My middle daughter must have been just around the corner in your photo, playing flute. She's playing at Orchestra Hall with the Minnesota Youth Symphonies tomorrow evening, and in the afternoon she is playing violin with the Cannon Valley Youth Orchestra (the concert's at 2:30 at Emmaus -- all are welcome!), which for some reason doesn't have the participation it did just a few years back but is still a wonderful, close-to-home option.

Music is ("R"?) us. Over the past 15 years I've sometimes played with the CVRO and sung with the late lamented Northfield Chorale, the Collegiate Chorale at St. Olaf, and now with the women of I Cantanti. I took viola lessons for a while. My older daughter played viola for a year and double bass for two, and sang with the Northfield Children's Choir for a year, and was in choir in middle and high school. Both girls took piano lessons for years from Vicki Anthofer. My son -- well, who knows. He's only in 2nd grade, but he once mentioned he'd like to play the French horn, and he might try the youth choir... It's great to know there are a lot of options, and some very dedicated teachers, and a musical community that could hardly be surpassed in a town this size. I'm grateful!

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .