Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Music Department Shows Tremendous Growth

As this year is beginning to draw down, my biggest regret is that I missed too many music performances. Most of you are aware that in my former life I was a music teacher, so to see our students perform gives me a lot of enjoyment. Unfortunately a series of family emergencies and out of town commitments kept me away more than I would have liked. Luckily I had the opportunity to attend both the instrumental music concert last week and the vocal music concert this week. To say I was impressed would be an understatement.

While there are numerous components the define what makes a school successful, a lot of stock is placed in student growth and achievement in core academic areas. Largely, student growth and achievement of this nature happens outside public view. This is because when we talk about student achievement, we consider what is occurring within the confines of the regular classroom setting. Please forgive me for boiling this down to such a rudimentary cycle, but teachers teach, give a test, and record the results. At the end of the year they can look back to see how much that student has grown and make a scientific judgment as to how successful their instruction was. Outside the parents, the student, the building principal, and a handful of other people no one really knows all that much about the growth of those students in the classroom. Now, this is certainly not meant to diminish the tremendous amount of growth our students have made in the classroom, because we have plenty of metrics that point to successful classroom instruction. None is probably more public that the Iowa Report Card.

On the other hand, when considering music, we can see very clearly how much improvement our student musicians have or have not made. That is because the amount of growth our student musicians make is demonstrated in a public event know as a concert. Even to the untrained ear, it is self-evident if something sounds good--or sounds bad. Now, although I did unfortunately miss some of what happened in the middle of the year, I do have two pretty good bookends. The beginning of the year concert, and the end of the year concert. What I heard and witnessed over the last week is, well--astounding. Don't just take my word for it, both our large group ensembles received across the board Division I ratings. That means in contest, all three judges agreed the ensemble (both band and choir) were superior in quality. Earning a Division I rating doesn't occur by mere happenstance. It takes very hard work, attention to detail, and incredible concentration. After listening to these groups perform, that being the concert band last week and the concert choir last night, it was really no wonder. It is one thing to be able to successfully execute on the notes, rhythms, and harmonies. It is an entirely different game when the ensemble is able to flawlessly execute on the mechanics and turn the selection into music, rich with dynamics, tone, and emotion. It was very impressive for me to hear these groups not play notes on a page, but to perform music as an art. 

The band concert last week was a real treat. For starters, the growth is pretty obvious. Being able to see how the students progress from fifth grade through high school is as big a contrast as day is to night. These young musicians are able to witness and hear firsthand that practicing your instrument does pay off, and if you stick with it long enough the opportunity to play in a high caliber band is an experience like none other. Yet, not to diminish the growth of any band, I was very impressed by the amount of growth made by our sixth grade band! I was very surprised to hear them playing multiple parts! Then last night, out of nowhere the junior high choir opened up with an a cappella piece. You don't normally do that with junior high students! 

How about considering the noteworthy (pun intended) accomplishments of our music department this year? Aside from the Division I ratings, our jazz band finished 4th at the state jazz championships. Three students were selected to the prestigious Iowa State Jazz Band. One of our vocal soloists not only earned a Division I rating, but also earned outstanding vocalist of the center. 

These are but a few of the accomplishments of our students in music this year. As I summed it up last night, our music department is very good.

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