Arts education program engages students and helps teachers

Posted in the Explorer News on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 12 p.m.

Two-thirds of public school teachers believe that the arts are getting crowded out of the school day, according to an arts education study from Americans for the Arts.

This continues, despite convincing research pointing to arts education as an important tool in creative and mental development beginning at a young age.

Even with a focus on testing, as today’s schools often place much of their emphasis, the arts have shown to help students in all subject areas, confirming the arts are not mutually exclusive from science and math.

Students with an education rich in the arts have historically earned higher grade point averages and scored higher on the SAT than students without arts education. The more years of arts students take, the higher their SAT scores on average, the Americans for the Arts study found.

Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance (SAACA) has been working to infuse arts education in the community by delivering a practical and engaging program. Musical Gold in the Morning has expanded to additional schools this year and now includes a live performance series from the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra.

Reaching elementary school children in countries around the world and in 44 states in the U.S., the musical listening program has been presented in 15 Southern Arizona schools since 2007.

What began as a way to bring students in touch with classical music through daily listening of recorded bits of composition in an easy to digest format, has grown to an imperative music course, sometimes the only one existing in the school, paired with live performances.

“And we’ve only just begun,” said Kate Marquez, SAACA executive director.

Although, only in the planning stages, SAACA hopes to help fill the arts education gaps for schools across Southern Arizona, beginning with the ones that need it most, expanding the program into a comprehensive visual, literary, musical and performing arts education program.

“We are very excited about opening these conversations with school districts and, so far, have had a tremendously positive response,” Marquez said. “The initiative will take time to implement, but we feel a sense of urgency to play a stronger role in arts education advocacy and found the path that will lead us there.”

A closer look – Banks Elementary

“We noticed from the first performance that kids seem to really be engaged and recognize the compositions being played,” said Emily Walls, literacy coach for Lauren Nobles Banks Elementary School, 3200 S. Lead Flower Ave.
They just seem to pay attention to the performances a little more than in the past when live performers came in, she said, as the daily listening program preps students for what they may hear live in concert.

“I think they’re really getting an ear for appreciating music and not just sitting there bored,” she added. “They’re really interested in it.”

The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra (SASO) has partnered with SAACA to develop the program – a natural collaboration between two organizations with similar goals to raise awareness for music.

“Part of our mission is to do this sort of outreach,” said Tim Secomb, violinist and SASO vice president, “and through this program, we can reach a large number of students at one time.

“A very important aspect of adding the performances is to see how music is made,” he said, “as some students don’t have a music class in school or even know what certain instruments look like.

“It gives a much stronger image of what goes into making music,” he explained about the value of watching the music being played live. “This really adds to the understanding of what classical music is all about.

“Even if a small number of students became very involved on a long-term basis, that is extremely valuable,” Secomb said. “The biggest reward for us is to see how enthusiastic they are.”

The daily recorded listening component also helps teachers as students practice focusing each day.

“I can definitely say that just having them start out on a calm front in the beginning of the day it allows them to be centered,” Banks said, “and I like to think it gets them off on the right foot and ready to learn.”

“We ask questions like ‘what are you picturing when you here this music?’,” she explained. “We really have fun with it.”

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SASO’s Story

Composer, pianist and conductor Warren Cohen served as music director for eight seasons, routinely commuting from his home in Phoenix, but one year all the way from Hawaii. His wife, coloratura Carolyn Whitacre, was a favorite soloist.
The visionary founders of SASO were Barbara and Bill Chinworth, Scott Bracher and Janet Lombard. Barbara has played with SASO through its entire history, originally in the horn section, now on bass.
SaddleBrooke is home to many of our loyal donors and the place where we’ve held our gala celebrations—first a black-tie dinner with music from "Phantom of the Opera" and later our annual StarStruck Gala evenings from 2008 through 2013.
The largest event SASO has produced was Berlioz Te Deum, presented at the Tucson Community Center Music Hall with the Tucson Civic Orchestra, Tucson Masterworks Chorale, Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and Pima College Singers.
The first concert was Oct. 28, 1979, conducted by former University of Arizona music professor Henry Johnson, featuring Jonathan Kramer in a Boccherini cello concerto.
In December 1995 SASO was the first to present a concert at SaddleBrooke. This was the brainstorm of concertmaster Sam Kreiling. The concert sold out, as did a four-concert series the following year. SASO has performed there ever since.
Alan Schultz became music director in Year 2 and continued leading SASO for 15 seasons. He frequently conducted from the keyboard—organ or harpsichord. He also composed several works premiered by SASO.
Our most famous alumnus is Rico Saccani, associate conductor of SASO our inaugural year and piano soloist for the second concert. He later conducted opera companies and orchestras around the world and was music director of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985 to 2005.
Early audiences had to be loyal followers of this itinerant orchestra, which performed all over the city, frequently in churches. In the 1980s SASO rented the Temple of Music and Art for a concert. The City of Tucson condemned the building the morning of the dress rehearsal and the concert was canceled.
One spring SASO proved it has animal attraction. When it played at the Reid Park Zoo, some of the critters sang along with the music
Adam Boyles was the music director for three seasons, bringing bountiful youthful energy and a passion to serve the music. Then the Tucson native moved East to brave the snow and conduct the orchestra at MIT in Boston.
The most colorful performance was a Halloween concert in Nogales—a ghoulish event where the conductor was a clown and all the musicians were in costume.
Turkish maestro Orhan Salliel, after guest-conducting SASO in the fall of 2012, wrote to us, "The time in Tucson I shared with you in SASO for me was so special. I felt the real love of music from the bottom of everyone's hearts. It was something I do not feel often—never, ever in the professional world anymore. Please keep it, save it, try to build everything from this power of love for music."
Brazilian-born Linus Lerner, in his first year as music director, challenged the orchestra to learn his native Latin rhythms by playing Villa-Lobos. This proved surprisingly hard to do. We finally got it, but not until the week of the concert.