Photo by Christa Gutschenritter www.christa-taylor.com
By Stephanie Shea, Musicality Network Manager and Saxophone Instructor
Listen to audio tracks from some of our school concerts here: https://soundcloud.com/the-musicality-network
Martin Luther King Jr. School is in the NE Portland neighborhood of Alberta Arts (which happens to be my neighborhood as well as that of guitar instructor Will Dudley, brass instructor Jackie Sauriol and accordian/piano instructor Susie Schmitt). One thing I love about living in Alberta Arts is the diversity. But there’s also the effect of gentrification and a rise in the cost of living here that has affected many families. This school has faced a lot of challenges due to years of disinvestment, low expectations and a dwindling student population. However, things began to change in the fall of 2010 when the district brought in principal Kim Patterson and received a substantial School Improvement Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Although enrollment is still about half of what it was in 2006, the school is now on an upswing thanks to principal Patterson’s efforts.
Principal Patterson recognized that the arts are an important tool to improve student behavior and parent involvement. And thanks to a public-private partnership called Turnaround: Arts, Martin Luther King Jr. School has been able to test the hypothesis that high-quality and integrated arts education boosts academic achievement, motivates student learning and improves school culture. It was only after we’d performed there and I was researching the school for this blog that I discovered what an important part we’d played in Principal Patterson’s mission. I saw that the Musicality Network was among many visiting artists last year including Sarah Jessica Parker, the Oregon Children’s Theater and the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. What an honor!
When we arrived to perform, the staff was welcoming and we had an excellent stage area. It was special to me to be involved in a school that is part of my neighborhood and I really appreciated the diverse ethnic backgrounds represented in the student body. This was the first school concert that Will Dudley brought his West African Kora and performed a solo piece. It was here that I realized that we could really do more than just play music at our school concerts—we had the ability to share a bit of different cultures through our selection of instruments and songs.
Throughout the school concert series we discovered the students were such thoughtful listeners, and the students at King were perhaps our best audience, though I hate to pick favorites. One of the best parts of the concerts is a brief q and a session with the kids. They wanted to know how long we’d been playing, how we play our instruments, was it difficult to play, what are our names, what is the band name and one of my all time favorite questions, “are you magicians?”
Well, I think most musicians will tell you that music is a powerful force. And to me what makes it such a special art form is that the players and the audience can become immersed in a common experience together. When you combine instructors whose passion it is to share music with children and an audience of kids who are eager and open listeners, one word does come to mind — magic!
However, the special feeling at this school did not end with the concert. On the way out as we crossed through the playground to the parking lot, several students came running up to us to tell us how much they liked the concert. Jackie was carrying her euphonium and they begged her to play it. This says a lot about the quality of instructors we have here at the network. Jackie didn’t think twice to stop what she was doing — for all I know she had to be somewhere. She then proceeded to delight the children by playing on her euphonium and showing them some of the sounds it could make. Watching this interaction and the kids’ enraptured faces, I could not have been more proud to be friends and co-workers with Jackie as well as part of the bigger entity of the Musicality Network.
This is part three of a five-part series where I’ll talk about the experiences of the Musicality Network instructors at each of the schools we performed at this school year. There was something uniquely beautiful in each school concert!