Music education benefits students, even while learning apart

“It all begins with children singing, moving and playing. Music is totally different than all of the other classes.”

That’s how Lynda Keech describes the magic of music education. She’s director of Fine and Performing Arts for the Newburgh school district – one of seven area districts to have recently been named Best Communities for Music Education, an award given annually by The National Association of Music Merchants.

This year’s local honorees were the Middletown, Newburgh, Goshen, Liberty, Monroe-Woodbury, Monticello and Washingtonville school districts. They were among 686 districts across 40 states to receive the award, announced April 12.

To earn this recognition, districts submit information on a range of factors about their programs and that was in turn verified by the Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas.

This year was especially difficult, as all educators had to work under new pressures thanks to the coronavirus. Achieving award-winning success during a novel period of virtual learning is the result of many passionate teachers’ abilities to quickly discover creative ways to reach, engage and work with students.

“Learning new methods has given teachers another tool in their toolbox as well as another avenue of learning and assessment,” said Newburgh’s Keech.

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Antoinette DePasquale, who chairs the K-12 music department for Middletown School District, agrees teachers have had to think out of the box this year while teaching remotely. Ensuring instruments are in tune and providing feedback is not the same when students play music together online, rather than in person.

But it’s been a creative year, she said.

“Families have also been providing good support,” DePasquale said. “Young students have made their own instruments and music kits at home like a shaker and drum or learning how to play the spoons. They’ve also benefitted from making videos and hearing themselves is helpful. Those videos may continue as assignments in the future.”

As Keech noted, one thing that makes music education significant, is that it allows children to be creative, express themselves, learn to work together and it stimulates the brain differently.

Students, too, stress the importance of music education in their lives. John Kate is a junior at Washingtonville High and wind ensemble saxophonist. “I’ve been so lucky to receive music education since elementary school,” he said. “Music can connect the world in ways that language alone never can.”

Jacob Eisentraut, a senior at Middletown High, remembers being in third grade and choosing to play the double bass for band the following year. Over the years, Eisentraut added cello, violin, piano, guitar, French horn and bassoon to his repertoire. And he sings in multiple choirs, all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. This fall, he will be attending Ithaca College to study music education and performance.

He credits music education for teaching him “valuable life skills including responsibility and time management.”

“I’m thankful to say, virtual learning did not impact my skills thanks to the teachers – they learned new ways to teach,” he said.

Reflecting on the positive aspects of remote music learning, Eisentraut adds, “We normally perform on stage and our audience is in person. Technology has allowed us to play and rehearse with others that maybe we normally would not be able to, and we can now perform for a widespread audience. Also, we access an expansive library for additional learning.”

But getting back to the in-person classroom is something most look forward to.

Middletown’s DePasquale stresses the importance of music classes in a traditional in-person setting. “The kids really need it to express themselves – not just be in front of a computer,” she says.

Keech adds, “Music in the classroom provides students with a sense of working together, creating a product, learning, listening, sharing and give and take. Teachers are very excited to have the kids back in person.”

Music education benefits students, even while learning apart
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