How do you give a child the gift of music? I thought about that recently, when after a busy, challenging day, I reached for my violin and once again enjoyed the relaxing outlet it provides. I thought about my high school orchestra conductor: one of my favorite and most influential teachers. I realized he cultivated in me much more than a refreshing habit. He nudged me to always be my best, and that positively rippled throughout my life.
A generation later, I saw a similar influence from music teachers of my own children. So as I pondered how Good News readers might encourage their children and grandchildren to get involved in music, I sent an observer to the classroom of Joshua Lennox, a 2016 Palm Beach Atlantic University graduate.
Josh leads the Orchestral Strings Program at Palm Springs Community Middle School, one of only two Palm Beach County middle schools with orchestra programs open to beginners. With his students, Josh has deeper concerns than instrumental technique, as you can tell from messages on the colorful posters in his classroom:
“Music is freedom.”
“You will be faced with many choices during your life. It’s up to you to decide which notes to play.”
“It’s not just about being a musician,” Josh explained. “I tell my kids that constantly. It’s about self-discipline, teamwork; so many things translate into other areas of study.”
At PBA Josh earned a degree in music education. He recalls a rigorous curriculum that challenged him “and really set a foundation and work ethic for me.” Now he’s building a similar foundation for his middle schoolers, and they see their hard work paying off.
“Fiddles on Fire”
Smiles and laughter spread through the classroom one recent morning when Josh selected a lively musical number the kids would play for their PBA visitor. “I love ‘Fiddles on Fire,’” said one young fiddler. Then she and her comrades smoothly executed the piece, Josh watching carefully and directing as he played along on string bass.
Masked and distanced, 13 students played their instruments in the large classroom while another dozen played at home, shown on a giant monitor. (The home-bound players muted their computer microphones so the various internet connections didn’t combine into an out-of-sync jumble.)
Obviously the pleasing musical result came only after many hours of instruction and diligent work. These students show up for 8 a.m. sectional rehearsals, and Josh requires them to take their instruments home and practice four days a week. He leads them with a careful balance of structure and fun, and he watches with satisfaction as they mature and develop.
“They get into the routine that part of their job at school is to progress with their instrument,” he said. “It’s really just about progressing ourselves and making sure that we’re keeping up that self-motivation and self-discipline, and it relates – translates, to other classes.”
Palm Springs Community Middle School is a Title 1 school, meaning that many of the students come from disadvantaged homes. For some students, it’s the experience of orchestra that motivates them to show up and be successful at school, Josh said.
“Josh is great with kids, involving them, transferring that enthusiasm and excitement,” said Patrick Clifford, one of Josh’s former professors and director of PBA’s Preparatory Department. “We’re proud of him.”
PBA has programs for youngsters
The Preparatory Department offers music and dance programs for ages 5-18. Pat began his own violin studies at age 6, and like Josh, he cites the broad-ranging results of music education.
“The real benefit of music for kids, first of all,” said Pat, “is a balance for their lives. Music affects them, but they also learn how to affect others with it and express themselves through it.”
Musical talent is not as important as desire and drive, Pat said. “It’s perseverance, just like life in general: how many times we get up after falling. So when we pursue that in music, there are multiple benefits across all facets of a child’s life.” As kids work hard and become proficient with their instruments, they grow in confidence and character.
“It goes across the board and travels throughout their lives in all they do,” said Pat.
And properly led, young musicians can obtain music’s highest expression: “giving glory to God.”
Amen to that! So what advice would Pat give parents and others who’d like to encourage kids along this productive pathway? For example, how do you respond to the student who doesn’t catch the spark of musical excitement right away?
“Don’t give up on it too soon,” said Pat. “If one instrument or one teacher isn’t a fit, try another.”
Pat has taught music for more than 20 years. Interacting with students and parents, he’s heard lots of people say, “I wish I hadn’t quit taking music lessons.” But he’s never once heard someone say, “I wish I hadn’t continued and become as proficient as I have.”
Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, a physician, researcher and innovator, is president of Palm Beach Atlantic University. (www.pba.edu) For more articles by Dr. Schwinn, visit goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-debra-a-schwinn/