Our programs have helped students to master skills and gain self-confidence. By working closely with principals, ETM has helped schools graduate from having no music education at all to employing their own music teachers and sustaining programs beyond ETM’s involvement. In addition, we have helped others to replicate our model in other communities.
Achieving Academic Success Through Music
The following story was written as told by ETM music teacher, Brittany Kolodziej who teaches orchestra at PS 68 and MS 529 in the Bronx. PS 68, a K-5 school, has partnered with ETM since 1997, during which time it has established its general music program for all students and an orchestra program which serves grades 4-5.
From the first day Jamal* entered my cello class I knew there was something special about him. Jamal was anxious to learn and came to class and rehearsals throughout the fall and winter season with wide eyes and a huge smile.
I'll never forget one day in November when I had Jamal’s class for the last period of the day on a Friday afternoon: he came into class almost running, unpacked, and immediately began playing the blues on his cello. "Miss Kolodziej," he said, "I'm so glad it's time for cello class. I've had this music running through my head all day and now I finally get to let it out!"
A few weeks later he began missing his lessons. His teacher informed me she was holding him because he "couldn't even write a sentence." She told me that his grades were so low in English Language Arts (ELA) that he could not afford to miss time in her classroom. I fought this battle and lost. Jamal, however, still came to morning orchestra rehearsals before school and even gave up some recess time to practice with me. He was determined to get his grades up so he could stay in orchestra. As time went on, Jamal showed me a few of his own music compositions. It seemed that composing music was also helping him to compose words, sentences, and paragraphs in his ELA class. During this time, he fell in love with Yo-Yo Ma’s music, and decided he was going to be a famous composer/cellist someday too.
By the start of spring, Jamal showed me some of his school work and smiled when he told me that his grades were up. In orchestra, he never skipped a beat.
I almost cried, a few weeks ago, when he brought me an essay he wrote about what music meant to him. I could see his effort come through in his writing. It was evident that he wrote and re-wrote his story many, many times before giving it to me. He wrote beautifully. I had seen where he was in the winter, and the improvement in his writing was astounding.
Jamal’s hard work in both cello class and ELA are paying off and he has been selected for an USDAN scholarship to attend a summer arts camp. His gift and passion for music has motivated him to rise above his challenges in ELA. He is one of the most gifted students in the orchestra and his musical abilities are top notch. I am so excited for what is in store for him.
*The student’s name was changed to protect his privacy.
"The Next Joshua Bell?"
Brandon is a 6th grade violinist who didn’t care for school and spent every minute he could on his skateboard. All of that changed when Joshua Bell came to visit. When Brandon saw Joshua Bell play live, he suddenly realized what the possibilities are on the violin. It was like skateboarding tricks - but with music!
Suddenly, he started looking up videos on YouTube, trying out tricks on his instrument, and transcribing difficult pieces. He learned Schubert’s “Ave Maria” by ear 100% correctly, and he has been trying to learn the Bach Chaconne [the song that Joshua Bell played for the students]. Brandon comes to school enthusiastically every morning – as soon as he puts his instrument in his locker, I get a stream of questions that he came up with during his practice the night before. He spends his lunch time practicing instead of playing basketball, and I have to kick him out after school or he would play for me all night!
Brandon takes great pride in being able to play things that nobody else can, and he is working hard in school so that he can keep his special lunch time and after-school practicing privileges. Brandon played for the school principal recently. Principal Uzzo sought me out and said,
“You know, that kid is gonna be the next Joshua Bell!”
Learning Vital Skills Through Music
A student was referred for music therapy because of a severe deficit in functional mathematics, specifically with coins. The Occupational Therapist had worked with her for nearly a year and a half with limited success on simply identifying and attributing values... I found that this student was incredibly musical and extremely bright in verbal/communication skills... however, her identification of coins was less than 50%.
She was assigned to music therapy for 45 minutes/week. Music Therapy is the direct use of music to reach non-musical goals, including communication, socialization, motor functioning, emotional awareness, cognitive skills and functional academics. As young children develop, many basic functional academics are taught through song. For example the “ABC’s” song helps a preschooler memorize the order of 26 separate bits of information.
This student’s favorite song was “Baby” by Justin Bieber. Because the most ideal therapeutic outcome typically comes through preferred music, she learned a new version of “Baby” with the words of the refrain rewritten to be a mnemonic device. She used Garageband to choose drumbeats/synthesizer parts and record her own voice. We made a CD for her to listen to several times a day. After several weeks, she identified all coins and attributed values with a 100% success rate. As her music therapy continued, she began writing her own verses to rehearse a variety of strategies for counting coins. Another couple of months and several recordings later, she not only identified/attributed values to the coins with 100% success rate, but was counting complex combinations of coins up to a dollar with nearly 100% success.
This absolutely vital life skill, which had escaped this child for nearly 10 years, was taught through music. Did her consistent classroom support, occupational therapy and years of support assist in this acquisition of knowledge? Undoubtedly. However, the motivating and mnemonic power of music was the catalyst that allowed this student to begin to thrive in a public environment.
Student Essay: "Preparing for My School Musical"
-Bronx partner school student, age 9
Last year, I had a shy little boy named Justin in one of my music classes who signed up for a special keyboard class after school. He was at every single practice and always came on time and prepared. In music class he would very rarely speak out but always knew the answers when I called on him.
After the winter concert Justin’s mother came to me and told me how much her son loved music. She told me he was never this excited about anything before in the past. I didn’t know that it meant that much to him because he was always so quiet. She told me that he talked about music class and keyboard class all the time and told his mom that it made him feel really good when he was there. When she told me this I got little chills of happiness.
When it came time to cast roles for the school musical, I wanted Justin to take part in it but I wasn’t sure if he would be able to do it because he was so shy. However, I cast him as a speaking role with a good amount of lines. For several months, I worked with him on projection and overcoming his shyness. That night he got up on stage in front of an auditorium full of people and spoke all of his lines perfectly! I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so proud of him. His mother came up to me afterwards to tell me how much confidence music had given him throughout the year. She begged me to put him back in keyboards when he returned the following year because it was helping so much with his self-confidence. Of course I did, and he is now a clarinet player in our P.S. 76 band!”