Features Special Features — 02 February 2018
Trio of teachers sing praises of music education

By Greg Carannante

City & Shore Magazine

Music. You might be listening to it right now. Or maybe it’s playing unnoticed in the background. Music is so everywhere anymore that sometimes it’s like it’s not even there.

The everyday intrusion that began in the Roaring Twenties as a way to soothe the fears of the first elevator riders is now as pervasive in popular culture as, say, a Kardashian. Step out of that elevator today and the music often doesn’t skip a beat. Go any place, do anything and it’s a safe bet that, somewhere, Beethoven will be rolling over.

It’s an astonishing irony that as the sound of music reverberates ubiquitously from Bluetooth earbuds to outdoor speaker systems — as the “American Idolization” of the art form echoes throughout society — music education itself is increasingly voted off.

Funding for the arts is a reportedly a low priority in the Trump presidency — indeed, his budget plan released last year proposed scrapping the National Endowment for the Arts and eventually the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. From 2008-2014, funds were cut in over 80 percent of U.S. school districts, and music programs have often been among the first to get the hook. This, despite the many studies that affirm music education’s beneficial effect on learning in general — studies like the one showing that children (and even adults) who play an instrument 30 minutes a week for about a year have more highly developed brains.

Of course, music education remains a vital cog in the curricula of many schools — usually those not tied to public funding. As a way of representing them, we spoke with three area music teachers about their programs, philosophies, performances — and why it’s important not to stop the music.

NINA VanDERHOOF

  “From as early as I can remember, all I ever wanted to do was teach music,” says Nina VanDerhoof, the Fine Arts co-chair and teacher of three high school choirs at American Heritage School in Plantation. Before beginning her 32 years of teaching music — 27 of them at AHS — she majored in music education and piano.

 What music programs are offered at AHS?

Band, guitar, orchestra, chorus, piano, percussion, music technology, music theory, dance.

 Describe one of your most memorable performances.

I have had the opportunity to conduct the American Heritage Acapella Singers at Carnegie Hall four times. Until this year, I thought nothing would ever compare to that. Each Christmas season we perform for pediatric cancer patients at Broward Health Medical Center. This year we also went to the ICU pediatric cancer floors and performed for the patients too ill to leave their beds or rooms. To watch how moved my students were as they sang Christmas carols to these young children touched me in a way much greater than any other accomplishment in my career.

 What is your approach to teaching music?

In two words: life lessons. All the elements of music are a standard part of my music teaching. However, every time we create music, I use it to teach life lessons, such as: discipline, community, awareness of others, communication, self-respect, etc. Many alumni have sent me notes that say, ‘I heard your voice today at work as I gave advice to my employees and realized it was something you said every day in class.’

 In the face of arts funding cutbacks, state your case for the value of music education.

Our brains need the arts (left-brain and right-brain theories). The arts encompasses the whole of education as it unifies science, math, English, history and language — giving students the ability to be well-rounded. In a world that has become divisive, the arts teaches social skills, teamwork and life skills. It is also a very important voice to document the state of society through the use of visual arts, theater, music, etc.

 Who are your favorite musicians?

Luther Vandross, Gary Morris, Charlotte Ritchie, Barry Manilow, Pentatonix.

 Any special upcoming performances?

The Acapella Singers spend Valentine’s Day going from class to class and office to office to personally sing Valentine’s Day Grams. Also, on Feb. 24 the entire Fine Arts department is on display for the community at the AHS Fine Arts Festival. The Fine Arts building will be a constant activity of our performing artists, as well as a large display by our visual artists. The festival is free to the public.

ERICK CROW

From his first forays into music as a 9-year-old violinist and member of the Florida Youth Orchestra, Erick Crow has gone on to become director of Choral Activities and Drama at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale. Along the way, the now- third-year teacher received his master’s degree in Voice Performance from the University of Florida and has performed with several groups and professional theater companies across the country.

 What music programs are offered at Cardinal Gibbons?

The concert choir is an audition-based choir of about 60 male and female voices. From there, I create separate women’s, men’s, chamber and jazz choirs. We also offer Concert Band and Marching Band, Strings Ensemble, AP Music Theory, Electronic Music, Percussion Ensemble, Music Appreciation, Beginning Band and Drama Production. Our Drama program produces two mainstage productions a year, and both music and drama compete at the district and state level events.

 Describe one of your most memorable performances.

Our concert choir just performed at the Disney Candlelight Processional, which is one of Disney’s longest traditions. You must audition your choir to be selected and we performed with other schools from across the country, a 55-piece professional orchestra and a guest narrator who read the story of the birth of Jesus. This year that was Jodi Benson [the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid].

 What is your approach to teaching music?

I believe in developing the all-around marketable musician. I develop independent, diverse and smart musicians. I was taught at a young age that you should learn as many styles of music as possible. With violin and voice, I teach classical [methods] and through that, students can develop and play any style. Also, I believe in developing humble and respectable musicians. My violin teacher always would state, ‘It’s about looking good and sounding good — people see you before they hear you.’ I stress a strict dress code because I want my musicians to be confident and present their best self. I believe these qualities are important for any occupation they may pursue.

 In the face of arts funding cutbacks, state your case for the value of music education.

Music develops multiple parts of the brain, inspires creativity and connects us as human beings. In a music ensemble, you learn discipline, passion, math, history, languages and focus. These are the components of STEM [science, technology, engineering and math]. Studies show it increases test scores and student productivity. It is essential for developing the creative sphere, and without this developed creativity, I believe leading companies would find it difficult to advance and create new innovations.

 Who are your favorite musicians?

Neil Diamond, John Mayer, Freddie Mercury, Jason Mraz, Frank Sinatra, Itzhak Perlman, Andre Rieu and Eric Whitacre.

 Any special upcoming performances?

 Annie The Musical, April 13-15 at the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center [in Fort Lauderdale].

JESSEY ANDRIS

A professional flutist by night and music educator by day, Andris is director of Fine Arts, band director and elementary music teacher in her 10th year at St. Mark’s Episcopal School in Fort Lauderdale. She received bachelor’s degrees in music education and flute performance from Florida State University and a master’s in flute performance from New York University.

 What music programs are offered at St. Mark’s?

General music education for grades PK1-8. Specialties include middle school band and choir. We also offer musical theater and steel drumming.

 Describe one of your most memorable performances.

The most memorable performance with St. Mark’s students was at our formal music performance assessment in March 2017. My Advanced Band performed three pieces for three judges and received an A-rating from every judge, which hasn’t happened in several years. I have never been so proud of a group of students for working so hard to reach a goal together — I even did cartwheels in the parking lot for them!

 What is your approach to teaching music?

I believe that a music ensemble, elementary music class or advanced middle school band or choir can be compared to any athletic team. The team has to have mutual respect for each other and for me in order to perform/function at our highest level. We practice respect in the way we enter the room, the way we treat our instruments, the way we treat each other and the way we listen during class. Strong relationship-building between students and between students and myself is the foundation to our successful music team. The mutual respect creates an environment where we can create amazing musical experiences, take pride in what we do and have fun while we do it!

 In the face of arts funding cutbacks, state your case for the value of music education.

I believe that all human beings are born with a natural propensity towards music, specifically towards rhythm and pitch. The purpose of music education is not just to provide the foundation for the next pop star. The purpose is also to engage our brains in ways that nothing else can. Studies show that actively engaging in music stimulates the firing of neurons between the left and right hemispheres of the brain and actually reinforces learning of other subject areas. The amount of research dedicated to music therapy over the past 10 years is astounding. The fact that music therapy is a recognized form of therapy should clearly emphasize that music education is a necessary component of human education.

Who are your favorite musicians?

The students I make music with every day!

 Any special upcoming performances?

St. Mark’s will perform Mary Poppins March 15-17! We will also be performing our annual PRISM Concert on May 10, which includes all 5th- 8th-grade band and choir students. It’s an extravaganza!

 

PHOTO: Erick Crow photographed by David Lee

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