Families

Music and the arts part of a well-rounded education

Even as wide-ranging scientific studies show how music affects mood, creativity and intelligence, local music educators have always known that its power is limitless.

"Music is foundational to the human experience, no matter what culture you came from or where you grew up," said Mike Copland, deputy superintendent at Bellingham Public Schools. "No matter what you do for a living, it makes you a well-rounded person."

Copland, who graduated from Bellingham High and Western Washington University, was trained as a music teacher but taught math in local schools. A cello and bass player, he taught private lessons and has performed with the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra.

Both Copland and Andy Marshall, who teaches choir and sometimes drama at Squalicum High, note that music offers opportunities and experiences for students that reach far beyond the classroom.

Students travel to regional and statewide competitions and often hold fundraisers to earn the money to participate in those extra-curricular activities. Not only do they visit other cities and meet new people, but they also perform in different and sometimes famous venues. Learning to sing or play an instrument teaches students self-confidence, poise and discipline for the practice that's required to excel at their craft.

"That's what's so wonderful about having a strong arts program. The opportunity to get up in front of people and express yourself," Copland said.

Showing that kind of possibility to his students is one thing that motivates Marshall as a teacher. He has taken students to performances in Portland, Ore.; Vancouver, B.C; and in the nation's capital. They're planning a trip to Los Angeles next year.

"The impact that public school music has is powerful," Marshall said. "We create events for the entire community. It's not just academic rigmarole; it's real."

With that in mind, Copland said the district is working to add more music to the elementary school curriculum, reviving the fifth-grade strings program that was eliminated in recent lean budget years and adding to the 1- to 2-hours of weekly vocal music that grade-school students receive. All three high schools and the four middle schools offer vocal and instrumental music as electives, but the programs aren't always equal and the school district is working to correct that.

Both Copland and Marshall pointed out that while music offers the opportunity for individual achievement, it also teaches teamwork in the same manner that athletic competition does.

"It's the idea of being part of something that's larger than yourself," Copland said.

Marshall, who grew up in a small Northern California town near Redding, starting playing the violin at age 5, focusing on old-time fiddle music and touring with a group.

"We had our coonskin caps and checkered shirts. It was really fun," Marshall said.

He started singing in middle school and was one of the few boys in choir. Later, he moved to Western Washington, studying at Edmonds Community College and performing with a group there. A 2002 stint in the Peace Corps with his wife in West Africa drove him into teaching. "I learned so much about music there," he said.

He has a master's degree in music from WWU. Through music, he's traveled to Europe, Canada, and around America.

"All of the things I would never have gotten to do - it was totally amazing," Marshall said.

Marshall said that in addition to boosting brain power, music can make people laugh, cry, and feel strong emotions such anger and pride. Through music, he said, students learn how to handle their emotional selves better.

"That's a time in their lives that's so packed with emotion and social interaction. Music is a way of communicating emotion. I always say it's the most efficient way," Marshall said. "You've got to work together and have a common purpose and be a unit. It's an example of perfect humanity when you see a group performing like that."

Marshall's goals for his students are to help them become proficient on an instrument, literate in music, realize the power of a group and be able to create concerts that are meaningful and powerful.

He advises parents to start their children early with simple music and movement programs such as music together or just reserve a time in their children's day for musical play. Basic instruments such as spoons, tambourines, small xylophones and jingle bells are relatively inexpensive. Many simple instruments such as shakers can be assemble DIY from household items.

But more than anything, Marshall urges parents to advocate for music in the public schools. They can school programs by attending concerts and drama performances.

MUSIC LESSONS

Help your child start learning music at an early age by enrolling in music and movement classes such as the nationally franchised Music Together - or simply by setting aside some regular time at home for music and movement using simple or homemade instruments.

"It's like barbells for your brain," said Squalicum High choir teacher Andy Marshall.

As your children get older, they may find that the demands of friends and other activities detract from their desire to practice and attend lessons.

"I can't tell you how many times I've had parents tell me that they wish they'd continued (with an instrument)," said Michael Copland, deputy superintendent of Bellingham Public Schools. "But if it becomes a forced march, that's what turns kids off."

LOCAL RESOURCES

musictogetherbythebay.com;

Bellingham Music Coalition, which advocates tor music in the public schools, on Facebook or at bellinghammusiccoalition.org;

guitarcenter.com;

bellinghamacademyofmusic.com;

quist violins on Facebook.

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