In March, music programs throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District hit a high note.
Students in the kindergarten through 12th grades are raising their voices and instruments to play tunes in tribute of Music in Our Schools Month. Educators are using it as a chance to drive home the critical role the arts play in and outside the walls of the classroom.
“With music you look at a symbol and convert it into sound and emotion,” said Soldotna High School teacher Kent Peterson. “It makes the brain fire in more complex ways.”
Stringing emotion into a performance is what can make the piece great, he said.
Peterson led band and choir concerts this past week. His choir students sang in front of a packed audience Wednesday, many members of which had sandwiches or sodas in hand. The singers stood offstage without microphones or sheet music in an inaugural lunchtime performance.
Peterson was giving them the chance for a change in venues.
“It is a huge change from performing for an audience to performing as background music,” he said. “As a performer, it is hard if no one reacts.”
Shows are a small part of what music students do during their school careers, so it can take years to expand that area of their repertoire, Peterson said. Giving speeches in other classes can help improve their stage presence a little, he said.
Peterson is an avid advocate for all the ways learning and playing music can positively supplement an academic experience. He said, in his ideal school, students would be required to learn a world language, English, math and music, which are four very different ways of looking at and interpreting symbols.
If practiced regularly, music skills can add to a person’s quality of life for years, Peterson said.
“It is expanding what you know and what you are exposed to,” said Austin Eriksson, Soldotna High School sophomore and saxophone player.
He has been playing his chosen instrument in the school district since fifth grade.
Eriksson plays the piano on the side and said being in Peterson’s band class that meets every day, five days each week, gives him the opportunity to just sit down and play, which can be hard to do with a rigorous school schedule and afterschool activities.
His classmate Jodi Sparks, who plays in the trumpet section, said he views the impacts as more abstract. He said it opens doors and draws even international connections within the umbrella of the music community.
Sparks sits on the school district’s legislative committee as the student representative, and said the arts are some of many programs under pressure with budget constraints coming from the state level. He spent a second imagining what Soldotna High School would be like without musical offerings.
“I would be a little less fun. It is a big part of the cultural life of the school,” Sparks said. “It shouldn’t be counted as a background class, it’s needed for students.”
Right now, art is an integrated part of curriculum, said Melissa Linton, the school district’s curriculum and assessment coordinator.
High school students are required to have completed half a year of fine arts to graduate, she said.
“Although a school may not have a teacher assigned to just teaching music, we are becoming more purposeful in identifying opportunities for art integration in core content areas – especially in grades kindergarten through sixth grade,” Linton said.
Superintendent Sean Dusek said he considers music and the fine arts an important part of providing a well-rounded curriculum to students.
“By engaging students through these types of programs, connections are made across curriculums and individual needs are met,” Dusek said. “We have seen students thrive in these programs, which has led to an overall higher level of enjoyment and effort in school.”
Parents also see music as a contributing factor in their children’s development. Jackie and Arvo Tomrdle watched their daughter Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science first grader Katalla Tomrdle perform in a musical adaptation of the aboriginal tale “The Boastful Frog,” Wednesday evening.
Jackie said she has watched her daughter’s experience with music in the classroom positively affect how she learns in all areas.
“She is shy and it seems like she was pretty confident out there,” Arvo Tomrdle said after his daughter’s performance.
Katalla Tomrdle said she loves the chance to sing and play instruments in school. She said she thinks music is easier than some of her other classes and she likes it because it is a different way to learn.
Nikiski Middle-High School’s band and choir, Kaleidoscope Elementary, Kenai Middle School band and Soldotna High School band and choir have already finished their Music in Our Schools performances.
The Kenai Central High School band will be traveling to Florida on Monday to perform at Walt Disney World and Cypress Bay High School in Fort Lauderdale.
Skvyiew Middle School, Soldotna Montessori, Soldotna Elementary and Homer High School all have shows later this month.