“Music In Our Schools Month” is an annual celebration during March, which engages music educators, students, and communities around the country in promoting the benefits of high quality music education programs in schools. We have been celebrating the month by talking to local music educators about the importance of music in our schools. I spoke with Sharon Ford. Sharon has been a music specialist in Southwest Allen County schools for 33 years. She works with students from Kindergarten to high school. She has taught music at Whispering Meadows for the past 24 years, teaching K-5 music, drama, and dance and each grade level has a musical during the school year. She also has a fifth grade choir, honors choir and has been fortunate to have students in the All State Honors choir.
Janice Furtner – “What’s the importance of music in our schools?”
Sharon Ford – “The importance is that every child gets the opportunity to express themselves in a different way than they get to in the General Ed. classroom. They get to take risks; they get to be creative and they just get to enjoy themselves.”
JF – “Have you seen children’s lives changed by music?”
SF – “Every day. The boys and girls who sometimes struggle in the classroom, because of academics and they are possibly on the bottom end of it all the time. Many times they are the achievers when it comes to singing, dancing and drama and they just come alive. You can see their self confidence growing every day.”
JF – “How much of your job is to advocate for music?”
SF – “100% of the time. We try to enhance what they are learning in their classrooms. If they are studying a specific country or a culture, I try to pick songs and dances that enhance that opportunity. But then, I also want to go on and not neglect what the boys and girls need to do to address the learning of musical techniques and the skills that are involved in playing instruments and singing and dancing.”
JF – “Where do you start when you have shining little faces in Kindergarten?”
SF – “We just start to sing fun type songs and do movement activities. They are learning all the time about rhythm and pitch and steady beat but they don’t really realize it. There are so many wonderful singing games that are new but I also teach the songs that I learned when I was a child. I keep trying to do an overall music program for them so that they learn the old and the new things that are developing every day.”
JF – “It’s interesting how you can memorize with a melody…”
SF – “Many times the General Ed. teachers come to me because they are amazed that when we are learning a musical that is at least 45 minutes to an hour, that a child who might be struggling in the classroom to memorize facts for a quiz or a test can’t seem to do it. But they can sing every word to eight or nine songs… So whenever they are coming in to a really difficult test, sometimes they will come down and say, ‘Is there any way we can make up a song about the different rocks or soils or atmospheres that can help these children to remember?” We take a simple melody that they are familiar with and change the words to it to help them remember the classroom facts.”
JF – “I know they learn the Nifty 50…”
SF – “Yes, we learn the states through a song. There is a “Presidents Rap” so that they know all the Presidents, in order, up to Obama. That's for third and fourth grades. With my 5th grade they know not only the states but the capitals too.”
JF – “Is music for everyone?”
SF – “Absolutely! Our program at Whispering Meadows not only is in the General Ed. but also in the Special Ed. and these boys and girls, some are highly functional and some are non verbal, but whenever we put a piece of music on, smiles come to their faces. And their head or their finger, even if that’s all that they can move, start to move: you can see music wakening something inside them. That something that only music can do for these children.
JF – “What are the highlights of your year?”
SF – “When they first come back to school in August, they share what music means to them and I ask them what they would like to learn this year that you don’t now know. One of the first things they want to learn is how to play the instruments. There is a skill in that. That is a highlight when they learn to play.
Creativity, they love improvisation. From Kindergarten to 5th grade at a certain time of year, they do improvisation and they create their own little melodies. They don’t always know the terminology of the notes yet, but they can still play something, their own creation. And that is a highlight.
I do a musical for Kindergarten through 5th and to be able to see them at the start saying we can’t memorize all this and then at the end of the show, when we do it for the parents, just to see how proud they are that they are able to do those sorts of things. That is a highlight also. At the end of the year I always get thank you notes saying, ‘Thank you for teaching us music that we didn’t even know was out there’.”
JF – “Are you always learning?”
SF – “Yes, I tell the kids, ‘You never stop learning.’ I learn something new every day by going on the Internet, finding new things, seeing new ways of using technology. That's helping to improve our lives. And being able to listen to professional musicians play certain riffs that they use in their music and then trying them myself, a person should never stop learning in my opinion.”
JF – “Are you hopeful that music will continue as a vital part of our curriculum or are you a little worried when you think about the next 10 or 20 years of music in our schools?”
SF – “I’m a little worried but if the children think that it is important and they go home every day and tell their parent what they did in class and we keep a close communication with those parents so that they realize the importance of what is happening with their child, then I think music will survive. Even though financial cuts sometimes might want to take the fine arts away from the kids, the secret is keeping the parents involved, keeping the kids involved and therefore you keep educating the administrators within the school system too, to see how music every day affects every person regardless of how old they are.”