Last week, I attended the Spring Art Show for my teenager daughter’s high school and last night our family attended the Spring Concert at our 9-yr-old daughter’s grade school. I was blown away by both.
My teenager has taken a mandatory 1/4 credit art class for the last two years. She really loves art and has thoroughly enjoyed this class. Her teacher has tried to coax her out of her self-imposed art style (with mixed results) but introduced her to new styles and mediums and she has produced some cool artwork, both 2D and 3D. She has signed up for an Intro. to Studio Art class next year and I’m as excited about it as she is.
At the art show, the advanced students exibited the traditional drawings and paintings, but also masks, mosaics, architectural models, welded metal and clay sculpture, etc. The senior students had groupings of several of their pieces and a couple of these were quite professional-looking. This was not like the studio art classes I took in high school and some of it reminded me of college art classes I took. Certainly some of the results were college-level effort. I can’t wait to see what my daughter learns and produces in her class next year!
My younger daughter plays the french horn (The thing is bigger than she is!) in the Beginner Band. Obviously, since this is the first year these kids have been playing, we aren’t going to have professional-sounding quality, but I was impressed by the definite improvement since their Christmas concert. These kids have been working their little hearts out! I also have to shamelessly plug my daughter’s effort too – she won special recognition as the Most-Improved Student.
Also featured during this concert was the 5th and 6th grade band. I was in drop-dead awe of these kids. They played like a seasoned high school band. Honestly. They tackled some pretty difficult music (Gustav Holst’s Mars, Robert W. Smith’s Morpheus and Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird, if you are familiar with them) and pulled off an amazing job. I’m so jazzed that my daughter will be moving up next year into this band.
Our small community (there are less than 1500 children in our public school district, Pre-K through Grade 12) has been blessed with an excellent music dept. We have 18 different performing musical ensembles and every year there is a 6th grade musical and a high school musical that usually earns group and individual awards by the nearby Broadway Theater League. We’re also on the Top 100 Communities in America Supporting a Program of Musical Education. Ok, I’ll stop gushing now, but I don’t remember our music program (I went to school here, too) being this diverse and interesting before.
It’s obvious to see that the driving force is the dedicated music directors shared between the two schools. They are excellent teachers, enthusiastic and fun and the kids love them. There is one I have privately nicknamed “The Pied Piper” because whenever I see him, there is always a bunch of kids following him around and he has a smile and a joke ready for each one. Another, who will unfortunately be retiring this year, has been a motherly figure, coaxing out great performances from the kids. The long hours of lessons, practice and performance are not a chore when they have leaders like these.
Just a side comment here. I’m a taxpayer. My state is a financial mess. Cuts are being made everywhere. Usually, the arts are one of the first items to get axed when there’s a financial crisis. But, everytime, I vote yes on our school budget. Sure there’s probably a bit of fat (maybe more than a bit) in that budget. But I honestly can’t say no to my kids’ education. I can’t say no to all the wonderful opportunities offered to my girls.
“We need to favor an education that cultivates the critical capacities, that fosters a complex understanding of the world and its peoples and that educates and refines the capacity for sympathy. In short, an education that cultivates human beings rather than producing useful machines. If we do not insist on the crucial importance of the humanities and the arts, they will drop away. They don’t make money; but they do something far more precious; they make the world worth living in.” – Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, University of Chicago; Newsweek International, August 21 – 18, 2006; “Teaching Humanity”; http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14322948/print/1/displaymode/1098/
That last sentence is what really gets me. Both my kids are good students academically, but the joy I see when they are immersed in their different artistic endeavors is incredible. I fervently believe children need both academics and arts (We aren’t an athletics family, so I can’t speak to that as much, but I know children need that too.).
I remember when a “well-rounded” student was sought-after college material. I’m sure colleges are still looking for that and it really stands out on a transcript. But what about the rest of our lives?
We all seem so “specialized” once we are adults. Once I got a job, got married, had a family, I didn’t pick up an instrument or do any kind of artwork for years. It came in handy later on when I was painting a Pin-the-Tie-On-Sponge-Bob mural for a birthday party or a spooky scene on a big empty box for a bean-bag-toss game for a Halloween party. But I have to say that for several years I really felt stifled when I wasn’t being creative and it negatively affected other areas of my life. That changed when I decided to write.
I needed and craved a creative outlet. Our children need that too.