Singing the praise of music education

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For Mike Holbrook, a group of local high school students literally brings music to his ears – his and many more.

Those 12 kids from Mineola, four from Quitman, two from Sulphur Springs and one from Harmony display the skills demanded by Lake Country Symphonic Band’s repertoire of concertos, suites, marches, show tunes, pop songs and variations of well-known classics.

“The kids who are playing with us – for their age group – are on top of their game,” said Holbrook, director of the Lake Country Symphonic Band.

Holbrook said he generally welcomes young musicians in the ninth grade and up, but he made a recent exception for an eighth-grader. The students are capable musicians who also devote untold hours to high school band, school concerts, UIL competitions and more, Holbrook noted.

Even with that load, “We throw a full two-hour concert at these kids every three months, said Holbrook. “It exposes them to a greater variety of music and technical ability for the music that they wouldn’t get just in their bands.”

The relationship with the students is mutually beneficial.

“We’re scratching each other’s backs. I’m getting the kids; I’m getting their youth and enthusiasm. They’re getting the opportunity to work with some really good older musicians. They get an opportunity to work with people who’ve been playing music for decades. It’s a great trade off,” said Holbrook.

The 12 Mineola kids with the verve and skill to perform with the symphonic band are among the roughly 400 who participate in band and choir at Mineola Middle School and High School, according to Chris Brannan, director of bands for the MISD. Those hundreds of students join hundreds more at the elementary and primary school, where music education is a staple of the curriculum.

“It develops the whole child,” Brannan said of music education. “Music is part of developing character in kids, and a lot of studies have shown that music helps develop the brain.”

Researchers Gordon Shaw and Francis Rauscher demonstrated how learning to sing and play the keyboard may influence the spatial-temporal skills of pre-school children. They also produced findings known as “the Mozart effect,” which suggests that listening to a Mozart sonata for 10 minutes can improve special reasoning skills in young children.

Music’s impact on cognitive development is why Texas makes music education a requirement in elementary and middle school, according to Brannan.

“I think it develops the whole child,” he said. “At best it makes them smarter.”

Music, Brannan explained, “makes them think – think more efficiently. They have to multitask. While playing music you have to think about 15-20 different things – the notes, the duration, the tone, the style, the rhythm, the pitch, the control of sound, all these different things.

“Marching band is even more complex. You’ve got to add the feet and the technique of the feet and where you’re going and what spots. But I do think it builds character and helps our kids develop a love of music, something they can keep the rest of their lives.”

MISD’s music program is designed to meet the needs of all kids – even those who could be described as tone deaf.

“Kids are all different. Some of them have a lot of natural talent and some don’t. It’s the same thing with athletics. They’ll get a kid in who shows some promise and you just try to harness it and turn them into a star athlete. We kind of do the same thing, but we do it with all the kids – even a kid who comes in and can’t really carry a tune in a bucket, they can learn to play an instrument. There are some instruments that are easier to play if you don’t have an ear. But we try to steer the kids in the right direction at the sixth grade so we can put them on an instrument that they’ll be successful at.”

Among its other benefits, high school band and musical training can leverage post-secondary educational opportunities, according to Brannan. Unlike athletics, where team sizes limit the number of student-athlete scholarships available, university marching bands seem to take a more-the-merrier approach.

“When you see the Red Raiders band take the field at Texas Tech, it’s 450 students,” said Brannan, adding that Stephen F. Austin has about the same. Kids who hail from 4A and smaller school districts have a great shot at joining a school band – a better chance than small-district athletes have at joining a major college sports team.

They’re (college athletic recruiters) looking for kids from the 5A and 6A (programs), but for music kids, you can walk in and you can pretty much be guaranteed a scholarship,” according to Brannan. “Every kid who comes in out of fine arts in public schools in Texas can almost be guaranteed a scholarship from any school.”

They also can win a part in a church musical group, attend a college summer band camp, or take part in a community symphonic band. As long as they can play the music, the students will always find a role.

For instance, Mineola’s Lena Hughes, who last year won a UIL Outstanding Soloist Award at for her performance at the Texas State Solo & Ensemble Contest, is expected to play a trumpet solo at the Lake Country Symphonic Band’s May concert, according to Holbrook.

And most recently, 2009 Mineola High graduate Eduardo Santoy dazzled the audience with a euphonium as he played variations of The Yellow Rose of Texas.

Hughes and Santoy are just two of the many fine musical products who can trace their roots to musical education in Mineola.

“It’s a good program,” said Holbrook. “They’re putting out some good sound, and I’m so happy to have these kids with us.”

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