Artwork and notes from the kindergarten and first-grade students at Roundtown Elementary.
If you walk by my classroom at 9 a.m. on a Monday morning, you might hear some rather unsettling high-pitched noises. Stop and listen for a while, and you’ll begin to hear something truly beautiful.
I teach elementary music at Roundtown Elementary School in York, and our third graders are in the thick of their recorder-instrument unit. Every morning, students flood my room, anxiously awaiting their turn to test their recorder skills, in hopes of earning the next “Recorder Karate” belt (a piece of yarn that ties to the end of their recorder).
It’s a self-paced system: The students learn the fundamentals of music reading and recorder technique during music class, but do most of the practicing at home. When they come to music class, they can test for a new belt, help a struggling player or even make a how-to video for beginners. If there is any one thing I can say about the recorder karate unit, it’s that it works.
As a music educator, I want to inspire kids to love music and to see it as a wonderful form of expression and creativity. In the midst of our recorder unit, students often tell me that they came up with their own original tune while practicing at home and would like to share it with the class. Or that they practiced for hours until they could finally master a song that had been particularly challenging for them.
I love knowing that so many of these students will go on to play an instrument in the band or orchestra or sing in the chorus. I love knowing that others will remember how good it felt to work at a song until it sounded truly beautiful and will carry that memory with them as they encounter new challenges. I smile knowing that still others will simply develop a life-long appreciation for music, and they will marvel at the way a mere combination of pitches and rhythm can make you want to dance or bring you to your knees. It is this indescribable quality of music as a form of expressing emotion that makes it uniquely human and makes us all feel a little more alive.
Of course, the benefits of music go far beyond music for its own sake. Involvement in music helps students develop a broad range of skills and character traits. Countless research studies have shown that those involved in the music program at their schools have increased cognition and achievement, higher GPAs and higher attendance. Music helps students learn decision-making skills, collaboration, critical thinking, emotional awareness and can greatly enhance creativity. Music has the unique ability to transcend socioeconomic differences between families, particularly when lessons and instruments are available through the school music program.
I love teaching music. And I am privileged to work in a school district that has recognized the importance of music education, and whose funding has enabled our schools to maintain a thriving music program. For those districts that are not so fortunate, one can only hope that lawmakers, administrators and school board members will understand that music is an incredible win-win for students, schools and communities.
Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time in the band, orchestra, chorus or musical theater will likely tell you that there are few things in life quite as satisfying and happiness-inducing as coming together with other musicians to make music. I can personally attest to this, and I hope that those who share my experience will join the fight to give every student the opportunity to have a music education; that is, to live life more fully.
Hilary Graves has been teaching music for 15 years in the Central York School District. She and her husband have two children, MayLeigh and William, who are both budding musicians. Hilary is a songwriter and pianist for the band Sparrow Drive.