Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra moves children with music program during Chicago residencyBy Jennifer Carnig
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s new three-year residency at the University means more than great concert opportunities and the coaching of student musicians and composers. It also brings with it a new partnership between the chamber orchestra, the University and local Chicago Public Schools.
Three public elementary schools on the South Side—the Ray School, the Carnegie School and North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School (established by the University)—will be among the first outside of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to participate in CONNECT — the Chamber Orchestra’s Neighborhood Network of Education, Curriculum and Teachers. An award-winning program, CONNECT brings SPCO musicians into classrooms to explore and perform classical music with schoolchildren, while providing teachers with a full curriculum that relates music to other subjects in a playful, creative and engaging way.
“Whenever you have the opportunity to carry music beyond the concert hall, it’s exciting,” said Cathy Sweitzer, Director of Communications for the University of Chicago Presents and the Office of Professional Concerts, the University body that brought the SPCO to town. “But this is even bigger than that because we’re carrying music out into our neighborhood to children who otherwise might never have the experience of being around live music. With cutbacks, most schools don’t have a regular music teacher on the faculty, so this makes for a really unique and important experience.”
In 1994, the SPCO began exploring how it could use its artistic resources to benefit inner city, public school students. The result was CONNECT, a program that goes far beyond a one-time arts experience. Beginning in first grade and continuing throughout their elementary years, each CONNECT student is involved in many different kinds of arts education, from exploring musical concepts with SPCO musicians to building instruments with their teachers.
“What’s so wonderful is that the kids learn about more than music,” said Kate Cooper, the SPCO’s education manager. Cooper designs the curriculum and then meets with teachers at the beginning of every school year to share ideas that integrate a musical theme into the core curriculum. She led her first Chicago teacher training on Tuesday, Sept. 27. Each year of the CONNECT program has a different theme, Cooper said, explaining that last year’s was “the tools of music.” So in addition to learning about the different families of instruments, students also learned about the science of sound, for example, how sound waves travel and what technically happens in making high- and low-pitched sounds. Students also made their own musical instruments as a science project.
In addition and perhaps most importantly, members of the chamber orchestra visit each individual classroom at least twice a year. Students also get visits from “cultural partners,” artists who perform music outside of the Western, chamber style. In April, students in Chicago will meet artists from African and South American countries, as well as jazz musicians.
“They get to know these musicians not only musically and artistically, but as people and role models in a community where sometimes there aren’t a lot of adult role models,” said Cooper. “And they get to imagine themselves in roles that maybe they never thought about before. It opens up so many possibilities in their minds.”
The SPCO musicians visited the classrooms for the first time on Tuesday, Nov. 1, and on Thursday, Nov. 3, students from the schools heard the full orchestra perform in Mandel Hall. For many of these children, it was their first time in a concert hall.
“It’s a truly amazing experience for the kids,” Sweitzer said. “Not only do they get that very personal, intimate experience of music in the classroom, which most kids don’t get, but then they get to attend a special concert geared toward them and what they’ve been learning.”
Around 1,225 Chicago Public School students are expected to participate in CONNECT its first year, and Sweitzer said she hopes to see it expand as it enters its second year.
“The benefits are astounding,” Cooper said. “Kids respond to other subjects more positively, and the whole mood changes. Bringing the arts into the classroom makes students appreciate school, and by brining another element into the day, it becomes a non-competitive learning atmosphere. The teachers say they can really see a difference.”
So much so that in St. Paul and Minneapolis, where CONNECT works with 17 schools, a long wait list has resulted.
“When a school gets into the program, they never want to leave,” Cooper said. “It really is a unique and often profound experience for inner-city children.”
For more information about CONNECT, visit the SPCO’s Web site at http://www.thespco.org. For more information about the orchestra’s residency at the University and for information on how to buy tickets to any of the shows in their three-concert series, visit http://chicagopresents.uchicago.edu.