The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:
Do our education programs provide the community with access to music education for children of all ages?
We are meeting the goal of our essential question. We perform music for families with babies and toddlers at the Family Concert; we introduce musical concepts to elementary schools through the Ambassador Program; and we provide orchestral training (and in many cases, music lesson scholarships) to the adolescent and teenage members of our Youth Symphony. The continuum between programs ensures that concepts carry from one age into the next while targeting Idaho Content Standards in the Humanities. From “establishing cultural context” and “using musical vocabulary” with our youngest generations, to nurturing an orchestra of students as they build the skills to “communicate through music with creative expression,” we are supporting ongoing Content Standards with our work. We are actively focused on making better citizens by showing our young people how to appreciate and master music. A survey of Youth Symphony students this year supports our conclusion: 90% reported a Positive or Very Positive experience. One student commented, “It is very good for me and has improved me not only as a musician but as a person in general.” Another wrote, “Because of Youth Symphony, I have grown greatly in and out of music and other activities.” “I feel I’m being utilized and respected as a professional,” wrote another student. We are proud to have this trajectory for our youth programs.
At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:
One of the major issues facing our Youth Symphony is the requirement to also participate in your school ensemble. For some students, their school doesn’t have an ensemble; others are home-schooled; others are faced with scheduling conflicts; others are not satisfied with their school ensembles. By requiring that they participate in school programs, our view is that we are bolstering enrollment and fostering partnership.
We posed the question to our students in the recent survey: 46% said they agree with the requirement, while a combined 27% said their school program wasn’t worth their time. That supports our having the requirement, but also begs the question: what can we do to help improve our school programs? This has become a priority for our work moving forward.
When asked, “Does the Youth Symphony contribute positively to your life?”, most feedback was very encouraging: “It pushes me to be better,” “It has taught me dedication,” “It gives me something to work towards,” and “It has made my work ethic more efficient, and it’s taught me how to accept responsibility for my actions.” We are pleased with these results after a season of demanding concerts. One of our students hit the nail on the head, making the offhand comment: “I think if we performed more for children then they would be more interested in picking up a musical instrument.”
The Idaho Falls Symphony provides many different opportunities for students and their families to interact with our organization and the artistic medium that we represent. We provide a youth symphony for those who are already musicians, and where students who do not have an orchestral performance opportunity can come to play with others like them. For students who cannot come to the Civic Auditorium for a concert with their families, we offer our annual School Matinee that serves as a field trip. This year, that concert was an abbreviated performance of Tchaikovksy’s Nutcracker Ballet, which may have been some of these students’ first experience with classical music. Still others get the opportunity to try out musical instruments in any of our many Instrument Petting Zoos.
Our Ambassador Program serves students and teachers directly by going to the schools to perform and spread music-related literature. This program has been very well received by many teachers – often the surveys that we get back from them have hand-written notes of appreciation that are quite enthusiastic.
Each of our efforts has had excellent outcomes this season. The Family Concert, in particular, has taken on a life of its own: the orchestra looks forward to performing for bouncing crowds of kids, and we have added so many new names to our Symphony community by reaching out to new families. The programming possibilities for the Family Concerts are limitless, and it provides our music director with an enriching creative outlet.
Youth Symphony and Ambassador programs are challenging administratively. The scheduling process for the Ambassador program is particularly taxing on our staff and volunteers. Teachers value their classroom time, and each one seems to juggle a different testing and parent conference schedule, making it difficult to squeeze the Ambassador visits into a myriad of tight schedules. We have found that in-person visits to school administrators solve many of the scheduling problems, and we would encourage others to do the same.
In response to the challenges of sustaining the administrative tasks of our growing Youth Symphony, we have created an additional paid staff position for the General Manager of the group. This has alleviated our volunteers and devoted parents to take a more supportive role, rather than being burdened with policy minutiae and the weekly onslaught of attendance issues, for example. When the dust settles, we expect that by having a single, centralized person take on administrative responsibilities, the music itself will improve, because often recurring systemic problems have a way of interfering with artistic quality –especially for adolescent kids whose lives are already so complicated.
Overall we are motivated by the positive impact of our programs. Now we hope to increase the accessibility of each program as the coming season approaches.