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Music Education from Kindergarten to College Master Classes

posted on May 20, 2010 at 10:01 AM

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Iowa’s public schools have included music in the curriculum for more than one hundred years, when a piano was a required instrument in one-room schools. 

Today the music curriculum can include everything from a first grade spring concert to a fifth grade beginning band class to high school swing choir, orchestra, jazz, and musical stage performances.  But when statewide budgets get tight, schools from the college level down to elementary have had to make cutbacks in many areas.  Teachers in all subjects argue the benefits and necessity of not cutting their particular classes from the curriculum, including those who teach music.

"Here we go. Follow me to stamping land, stamping land, don't go too fast. All who wish to follow me…"

If you ask advocates of music education what makes music class so important to grade schoolers, they'll tell you that music helps kids learn.

"Now you're gonna be the leader."

And that learning includes concepts like leadership in Mr. Nanson's general music class at Bloomer Elementary School in Council Bluffs.

"Just like me skipping down the street."

Nanson: There's been studies and studies and studies. Even I read about a study where skipping has to do with being able to read fluently. They're always constantly engaging their mind because they have to think about what's coming up next, they have to think about what they're doing at the time. They're also having fun, so a lot of times they don't realize that they're concentrating really hard to pay attention.

"15 miles, 15 miles –"

Nanson: The applications that I start with are very, very simple with kindergarten. Just keeping a steady beat. We work every day on keeping a steady beat. If they were having problems, I would physically try to help them, physically try to keep them on the beat, make them go a little faster or slower, whatever they're having the problem with. My philosophy is I think that with enough practice and time, anybody can learn that skill, if they have the physical capabilities to do it.

Nanson has taken special Orff-Schulwerk teacher training that ties together vocal and instrumental music, along with movement and creative thinking.

"Yeah, we go back and forth, nice and slow. Are we ready?"

Nanson: They're actually writing a poem or a story, and they're going to take it a step further. They're gonna compose music to go with it.

"Do you remember the bloomer expectation song?"


At the other end of the educational spectrum, college students will find at least two dozen Iowa institutions with music departments, where they can hone their harmonies. Here at Iowa State University, juniors and seniors are experiencing a special lesson with one of Iowa's best known musical performers, Simon Estes. An opera singer, Dr. Estes has performed on all the world's most famous musical stages and in 1996 accepted the distinguished Iowa Citizen Award. He now teaches master classes at Iowa State University and Wartburg College. And of course, he believes that music should be an important part of Iowa's educational system.

Estes: Music is very important in education and art. They've done many studies. They find out that young children, when they're involved in classical music or classical instruments, generally speaking, they do better academically in school and also they're involved in far fewer sociological problems. And I hope and pray that we will keep music active and in all different aspects of music in our junior high schools, even our elementary schools, as well as our colleges and universities.

Now in his seventies, Estes continues a vigorous schedule of teaching, performance, and philanthropy. He has begun a 99-county "roots and wings" tour of Iowa, donating time and proceeds to help young Iowans.

Estes: We've got so much talent in here in Iowa, and I think it's time that we tap this talent resource, and let this talent be displayed and shown throughout the whole state of Iowa.

Back in Council Bluffs, the school district was facing a possible $4.5-million across-the-board cut.

Bruckner: Council Bluffs absolutely feels the financial pressures that every school district in Iowa feels.

Superintendent Martha Bruckner visited classrooms, spoke with music teachers, and looked for a way to support their activities for less money.

Bruckner: What if we would not replace a music teacher but we would take $30,000, for instance, and bring in a consultant that really knows music to help when you have a large group of beginning students learning band? Now, the first reaction was who would do that. And the second reaction was, well, yeah, there's so-and-so at the music store, he'd be good, or there's so-and-so who's a retired music teacher and maybe she could come in and help that. You know what the best case would be is if we live through this cut and we were pushed to make some decision that in the long run maybe cost us less money and gave better service to the kids. That's where I'm trying to go to, but I also believe in Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, and fairy godmothers.

Yeager: Since we first spoke with Superintendent Martha Bruckner, the state released an additional $100 million for education.

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