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
Did you know that the Musicality Network has been getting small ensembles of instructors to go out and perform free concerts in Portland area schools? If not, maybe that’s because this was the first school year we’ve done it! We did our very first concert at Grout Elementary in SE Portland back in November and since then we were able to perform at four more schools this spring at schools in areas ranging from east of 82nd Avenue to SW Portland.
The school concerts started as an idea dreamed up at a brainstorming session between Musicality Network founder, Zach Seymour and myself. One thing I appreciate about working with Zach is that he is always looking for new ways to reach out to the community. And once we put an idea in motion, he supports me 100% with whatever I need to be successful.
So, the first thing I needed were some other Musicality Network instructors to perform! Zach sent me a list of instructors and I put out an email. Soon, what I started calling our “team” was assembled. The “teams” varied slightly for each concert, but some of the instructors performed at several concerts. I’d like to take the time now to thank Jackie Sauriol (trombone and euphonium), Susie Schmitt (accordion), Gabriel Seymour (drums), Jacob Ignacio (drums), Suzan Garau (piano), Adam King (Piano), Dusty Richards (Bass), Will Dudley (Guitar and Kora), Patrick McCulley (alto sax), Tate Peterson (guitar) and Amalia Etedgee (flute) for giving their time to bring music into the day of hundreds of kids!
Since the instructors were all taking time out of their busy schedules to volunteer, we communicated primarily through email and arranged one practice session prior to each concert. I was a little worried about only practicing once with people I’ve never played with before (for the most part), but we stuck to jazz standards or pop songs with charts that were easily accessible. I could say that we all came together as a band so quickly because of our musical backgrounds and abilities. But I also felt that it was our common love of what we were doing and desire to do the best we could for the kids that bonded us. I am so impressed with the skill and genuine character possessed by each instructor I’ve been lucky enough to work with.
When we went into our first school concert back in November, no one had done anything quite like this before. We all have performance experience, but I think it’s safe to say that we were experiencing some of the joy of that day for the first time together. Susan McElroy, Principal at Grout Elementary was completely welcoming to all the Musicality Network Instructors, and it was evident when you walked into the school that music and the arts were made a priority. Classical music is piped through the hallways and in the entryway there is a beautiful mosaic mural that principal McElroy had installed as a result of a grant she wrote.
It was an incredible feeling when the auditorium started filling up with children. It occurred to me that I only had the opportunity to play for hundreds of adults maybe one or two times in my life, so this ranked among one of the biggest audiences I’d ever played for! We (being typical musicians) were antsy to get playing so we had started in on Blue Bossa just to fill the time while the kids were getting seated. Immediately, the kindergarten class in the front row started instinctually swaying and clapping their hands to the music with no prompting from the adults!
It was that moment I think we all realized what a unique and special audience children can be. Kids are so naturally open and receptive to music, and often have no preconceived notions about what it “should” sound like. We couldn’t have had a better first time school concert experience than at Grout Elementary. The teachers had even gathered questions in advance for us to answer!
This concert became the “template” from which we created all the other concerts. Thanks to the professional photographer Zach hired, plus a great endorsement from Grout Principal Susan McElroy, I was able to put together a promotional flyer to show other schools what the school concerts were like. My phone started ringing off the hook!! It took no time at all to fill up the next four concerts for the spring with a waiting list for the fall. I realized that we’d found a real need for live music in the schools and it felt like the start of something big.
This is part one 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! ~Stephanie