March 30, 2016

Guest Essay: Music is an essential part of education

I attended a morning concert by the Rochester Philharmonic on March 11 in Kodak Hall. The orchestra performed symphonic music by such master composers as Dvořák, Mendelssohn, Barber, Mussorgsky, Mahler and Elgar to a packed full house. However, the thousands of people in the audience were not of the gray-haired set, like me. The audience consisted entirely of grade school students from the Rochester nine-county region. Just as many thousands of elementary school students in our community have done regularly since the early 1960s, they came to Eastman Theatre to attend an RPO Intermediate Concert, part of the series of educational programs performed by one of America’s finest orchestras.
2016 Intermediate Concerts
c. Michelle Shippers

As the Eastman Theatre seats gradually filled prior to the concert, the children viewed texts and drawings by fellow students on the subjects of love, sadness and joy-all projected onto a large screen behind the orchestra. The projections set the mood for the concert, aptly titled, “Cheers, Tears and Fears! Music Expressing Emotions.”

As the concert began, a truly amazing thing happened. The thousands of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders became absolutely silent as the first composer’s name and title of the music were projected onto the large video screen. From the orchestra’s very first sound, until the final note played in an excerpt from Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 8” an hour later, the audience was fully engaged in the music and wonderfully friendly narration by the orchestra's conductor, Michael Butterman.

I was seated in the very last row of the balcony, where I could easily observe the reactions of the students in the audience, and I can report with certainty that they were deeply engaged and on the edges of their seats from start to finish, especially including those in the row immediately in front of me, who were the farthest removed from the stage. As an example, during the entire performance of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” one of the most intensely slow, quiet and emotionally charged works in all of classical music, it would have been possible to hear a pin drop. And, even more remarkable were the responses to Butterman’s questions by students who were solicited from the audience. The youngsters clearly understood and appreciated the music, which should put to rest any notion that classical music isn’t for kids.

This was everything that an education concert by a symphony should be:
  •  A program centered on some of the world’s most inspiring classical music.
  •  A focused and well-thought-out narrative, centered on universal subjects.
  • An interactive experience, which enabled individual students to participate by offering their thoughtful responses to Butterman's provocative questions.
This is an essential part, not a frivolous extra, to the education of our children. The supporters of the RPO should be proud of this service and continue to do whatever is necessary to raise the community’s awareness and appreciation of the RPO’s education mission. Congratulations to Butterman and to all who helped to present this concert. How fortunate we are to have such an enriching resource for children of all ages in Rochester.

William Cahn
Bill Cahn is a former member of the RPO (principal percussion), honorary RPO Board Member, founding member of Nexus Percussion, and co-founder of Percussion Rochester. 


This essay was originally published in Messenger Post Newspapers.

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