The students arrived to Mercer Middle School in the early afternoon with instruments, sheet music, and snacks in hand. They then spent the day rotating from small group instruction to large ensemble practice before bringing it all together to perform for families and community members that evening. The orchestra performed under the direction of Lindsey Dustin, instrumental music educator at Broadview-Thomson K-8, and the band led by Ethan Thomas, West Seattle High School music director.
“It was so much fun working with these young musicians,” said Thomas. “They put in a lot of effort to the performance. It was well timed—the students were tired but successful!”
As soon as the students checked in, they joined one of the 20 elementary instrumental music educators who gathered the players into instrumental sections in various locations of the Mercer campus. In these group sessions, they helped the students listen to each other and master their parts together. They periodically stopped to talk about the instrumental sections or a selection of music.
Nathaniel Oxford, who teaches elementary band in six schools in the northeast, northwest and central regions, was one of the Seattle Public Schools music educators helping the students power through the practice session. Seattle elementary instrumental music educators all have the talent and versatility to teach their students band and string instruments—from violas to trombones.
“This event is a long-standing tradition and every teacher comes to this event knowing what music level their students are at and how to help them work together,” said Oxford.
“We have a great team of teachers [in Seattle Public Schools],” said Elizabeth Knighton, Casacadia Elementary instrumental music educator and 2017 concert coordinator. “I can personally say from the schools where I have taught, we work closely with the fourth and fifth grades teachers to ensure kids are getting their math lesson and their violin lesson.”
For Pam Ivezic, Seattle Public Schools instructional services music coach, music and arts instruction is vital to a comprehensive education because of its emphasis on critical thinking, collaboration, innovation, and communication skills.
“An art infused education—interconnecting art—with other subjects helps prepare students for the future,” said Ivezic. “Arts education provides students with 21st-century skills and helps them be prepared for college and career.”
The district is working to integrate arts education into core subject areas. Studying the arts provides students with an aesthetic appreciation to the world around them. It helps students make connections between the arts and other disciplines and to appreciate music and art in historical and cultural contexts.
That attention to cross-cultural influences was evident in the musical selections for the concert. From a lively bohemian folksong “Bohemian Stomp!” arranged by Sandara Dackow to a performance of Michael Story’s arrangement of the classic rock standard “Old Time Rock and Roll,” the band and orchestra ensembles took on jaunty tunes from different cultural backgrounds.
In addition to the performance, the honors concert has the benefit of helping the students make the connection with secondary school music opportunities. As fifth graders, each student is on a cusp of transition. Music educators hope they will continue their practice in the more extensive middle school music programs.
“We work really hard to connect the pathways from elementary to middle school music,” said Knighton. “We want to assure kids have a place where they can keep playing music.”
There are many opportunities to keep kids learning music over the summer months. The Northend Summer Music program at Ballard High School offers an a.m. session in July for fifth through eighth grade students who have taken wind or string music during the year and The All-City Band has summer marching band opportunities. For more information, visit our Summer Music webpage.