By Theresa Goffredo Herald Writer
You hear a lot these days about how school music programs don’t have any money.
True enough. But in the Marysville School District and at Lowell Elementary School in Everett, they are getting around that roadblock one plastic recorder at a time.
There are 1,300 elementary-school kids in the Marysville district and 80 kids at Lowell Elementary who are playing flute-like recorders and not only learning classical music and boosting their math skills, but are going to get the chance to perform with a live orchestra.
Music teacher Brenda Ehrhardt calls this nothing short of incredible.
“They feel very successful, which is what I want to hear,” said Ehrhardt, who works at Sunnyside and Cascade elementary schools in Marysville. “That is what I want above everything — to have them feel good about themselves when they are done.”
The children and music teachers are participating in the Carnegie Hall Link Up program — yes, that Carnegie Hall — the goal of which is to link up kids at the elementary level to orchestra music so they learn several master works through four or five pieces of music.
A performance element is part of the Link Up program, where the kids are able to demonstrate what they’ve learned by playing alongside a real orchestra. This will be a first-time experience for many of these students.
Marysville music teacher Kristina Bailey, who teaches at Liberty Elementary, said the Link Up program gives teachers a chance to work collaboratively. Also, the students have a chance to feel the kind of confidence and self-esteem that only comes from public performance.
“The students have a chance to perform and see professionals play and be a part of it,” said Bailey, who has 75 fourth-graders in the program. “They can see that they could actually pursue something like this and really realize that they can be a part of that.”
The pilot program didn’t cost the school districts anything. Many classrooms had the recorders and Marysville Rotary donated money for additional instruments. Carnegie Hall provided the music books and curriculum.
The Link Up Program has been made possible through the combined efforts of school district music teachers and about $15,000 in grants from the Marysville Rotary and the Tulalip Tribes, help from Opus Bank and support from the Parent Teacher and Student Associations.
But none of this could have happened without the Snohomish County Music Project, which spearheaded getting Link Up into local schools.
Part of the mission of the Snohomish County Music Project includes serving as a much-needed catalyst for music education, offering hands-on musical opportunities to young people.
One of these opportunities is Link Up, which aims to eventually have every elementary school-age child in the county learn to play a recorder and perform.
The pilot program kicked off in Marysville and at Lowell this year. Roger Pawley, the Snohomish County Music Project’s executive director, said Marysville music teachers were pumped for the Link Up program because over the years, a high level of tension had built up about the district’s music program not getting the funding it needed.
The Marysville School District has never had an orchestra program, Pawley said.
“So it really filled a need in Marysville,” Pawley said. “And the whole program is creating interest and demand. All the principals are excited about the program.”
Also school leaders such as Kyle Kinoshita, the executive director of teaching and learning for Marysville who oversees the district’s arts programs.
Kinoshita points out that one of the most important aspects of the Link Up program is that it supplements the math curriculum and is a potential gateway for a child to comprehend many math concepts.
“Any upper elementary teacher will tell you that fractions, for example, are one of the toughest subjects … music is full of those fractions and kids can see the relationship of different fractions right there,” Kinoshita said. “It’s got real specifics that connect to our math standards.”
Kinoshita gave credit to the teachers because this program is “definitely above and beyond really what their responsibilities are.”
“But their energy and, I think, their commitment to fine arts really is powering this,” Kinoshita said.
He said he had high hopes of Link Up being a long-standing program.
“Once we learn how to do this I hope now we can only grow,” he said.
Pawley also has that goal, to build the Link Up Program so that it is part of every district’s elementary music class.
“This is the role the Snohomish County Music Project has defined for ourselves in the community. In our new strategic plan, we are advocates for music education and we want to build demand, build pressure and build capacity,” Pawley said.
Pawley said the idea is that by giving more students the chance to express themselves through music, the demand for a return to “robust school music programs will grow.”
On May 4, the students in the Link Up Program will present what they’ve learned when they join the Sound Edge Orchestra, a branch of the Snohomish County Music Project, at the Everett Civic Auditorium for a concert.
There will be about 700 fourth- and fifth-graders participating. Some will be playing recorders; some will be singing.
“The whole underlying thing with classical music is it’s the trigonometry and calculus of music,” Pawley said. “We do have some good music programs in the districts but we’re not getting to that level — we are at the algebra and geometry level. If we get into the classical music, it will have some incredible effects.”
Music teacher Ehrhardt said she’ll have between 150 and 170 of her students performing at the May concert. She said the curriculum for the Link Up Program has been something the kids have really grasped.
“And that just makes me so happy,” Ehrhardt said. “I’m so grateful to Roger for what he has done for our music program. He’s the light at the end of tunnel.”