And the bands play on — with a musical “adventure” to go with it.
Adventures in Music began 26 years ago as a collaboration between the Port Angeles Symphony and the elementary schools in Clallam County. Three times a year, musicians play 20 live music “edutainment” concerts for the county’s elementary schools from Brinnon, Quilcene and Chimacum to Sequim, Port Angeles, Neah Bay, Clallam Bay and Forks, plus programs for homeschool students.
“For many of these students, this is a first opportunity to see live performers, and learn how many instruments are played,” Laura Lorentzen, music specialist at Helen Haller Elementary School, said.
“The Adventures in Music program gives students an opportunity to see performances of a variety of instruments we talk about in class,” she said. “These are instruments that I, as a pianist, singer, and choral conductor, do not have the expertise to demonstrate.
“Students also get to experience a variety of styles of music from different historical periods. The performers usually include in their program a demonstration on how their instrument works, and what it takes to play with good quality.”
Al Harris, director of the Adventures in Music program, said music is an key component of a child’s education that often gets cut when schools undergo budget cuts.
Art studies, however, encourage students to excel at almost all academic subjects, he said.
Lorentzen concurred, noting that music touches on a number of learning disciplines, from literacy (lyrics and music vocabulary to pitch notation, rhythm notation and following the “map” of a music score) to mathematics (whole notes, half notes, quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes), history (historical context of a music piece, for example), science (such as the length and tension of a string changing a note’s pitch), physical education (dancing and movement) and culture.
“I so wholeheartedly believe in the positive benefits music has for young people,” Lorentzen said. “It’s the one subject all students can experience, learn about, gain skills in, use to enhance understanding in other subject areas.”
Unfortunately, Harris noted, music is often on the budgetary chopping block in school districts.
“There are still a few schools that have no music program at all, because of budget cuts, and we are the only live music they get to hear during the year,” Harris said.
Harris estimated that last year the program reached about 13,000 students and 600 teachers.
“There have been other times when teachers have told us that autistic kids who normally show no reaction were enthusiastically ‘into’ the music,” he said. “And even normally problematic students were nourished by what we played.”
The program includes in-person visits from musicians: a Feb. 5 Adventures in Music program at Sequim’s Greywolf and Helen Haller Elementary schools saw Harris (keyboard) join vocalist Amanda Bacon, guitarist Chuck Easton, bassist Elaine Gardner-Morales and drummer Angie Tabor for a mini concert and lesson.
“Amanda was a very fun host, and invited lots of audience participation,” Lorentzen said. “She performed early rock ’n’ roll tunes, many that the kids were familiar with. Each of the players also got to talk about their instrument and how they played their instrument in a rock ’n’ roll style.”
Their lesson on the history of rock ‘n’ roll is one of more than a dozen such Adventures in Music lessons over the years.
Other Adventures in Music themes have included “How to Write a Song,” “Music South of the Border,” “The Musical Language of Story,” “Melody and Harmony,” “Music of the First Nations,” “The Musical Language of Story,” “The Science of Sound,” “The History of Jazz” and “Music and Moods.”
In addition, educators receive a Teacher’s Guide and youths get a Student Handout that includes free admission for their families to any Port Angeles Symphony rehearsal during the year, and enters them into a drawing for free tickets for the following season.
Harris said that he experienced some breakthroughs through music after at an Alzheimer’s Clinic in Olympia.
“Apparently, because I was playing songs from the patients’ era (George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, etc.), patients who had been basically staring at walls for months suddenly became alive,” he said.
“I have come to know that similar things sometimes occur because of the Adventures in Music program.”
He recalled a concert in Forks, where a young paraplegic girl in a wheelchair was brought beside Harris’ piano.
“Her head was down on her chest because she didn’t have much motor control,” Harris recalled. “I looked over at her and wondered whether or not she was even aware of the music.
“When I finished playing, her head was up and she had a smile that lit up the room. Something in the music had obviously touched her.”
The Adventures in Music program is funded by yearly donations. Current donors include: D.A. Davidson & Co., 1st Security Bank, Sound Community Bank, Dorothy Field, Randa Wintermute, the Beta Nu Chapter of Sequim, Olympic Printers, Port Ludlow Performing Arts and the Port Angeles Symphony.
Those interested in helping fund the Adventures in Music program are encouraged to call Jonathan Pasternak, Port Angeles Symphony Executive Director and Conductor, at 360-457-5579.