School Matters

At Cambria Grammar School, making music is elementary

Special to The CambrianMarch 20, 2014 

The Cambria Grammar School fifth-grade orchestra rehearses.

TED SIEGLER — Special to The Cambrian

In the “Music Man,” when Professor Harold Hill rides the train into River City and sells the town’s youth fancy uniforms and shining musical instruments, his only intention is to get out of town before the citizens realize he knows nothing about music. Larry Frost, Coast Unified School District’s instrumental music teacher, is a very different kind of music man.

Among Frost’s charges is the fifth-grade orchestra at Cambria Grammar School. The orchestra comprises all 56 members of the fifth-grade class. Each student is given an instrument to use throughout the school year.

The instruments, and music, can be taken home for practice and also are used during their twice-weekly orchestra rehearsals. Repairs and new instruments are paid for by district funds and support from boosters and the PTA. Rehearsals are held in the grammar school cafeteria/auditorium on the stage behind the curtain. As the students ready themselves, warming up and passing around music, Frost uses the time to oil valves, grease slides and pass out new reeds. When the musicians get stuck on their music, Frost, who plays many instruments, helps them with fingering and intonation.

During the fall term, the students learned music using a technique called “solfège,” a series of hand signs, corresponding to the “do-re-mi” scale. Solfege originally was developed as a step in the Kodaly method. By using this method, the students are able to concentrate on making music without the complication of learning to read notes. They learned their songs by singing them first and then moving on to their instruments.

Beginning in the winter term, Frost has introduced written music. This adds significant complexity, requiring the students to learn where the notes are on the staff and to understand the different rhythms represented by the notation. They also have to recognize that different instruments, tuned differently, achieve the same tone with different notes.

The fact that Coast Unified provides music education to all of its students puts it ahead of many districts that have cut music and art to reduce costs. Music education has been demonstrated to help students in a multitude of academic disciplines, making such cuts short-sighted and counter-productive.

As a musician, Frost’s educational objectives are, “To help ‘humanize’ the students by giving them access to music. The expressive qualities that they gain access to are part of what makes us different from the rest of the species on the planet. This is not to say that whales and birds or other animals do not make music of any kind. But music is part of what makes us human.

“I don't emphasize the effects of music on other areas of education, because I want the students to look at music as not a regular class. That being said, I do want the students to put in good effort and spend time learning their instruments, because the dedication towards improving will pay off in the rest of their lives, even if they don't continue in music making.”

The orchestra is preparing for a spring concert, but the schedule has not been set.

Stay tuned.

Ted Siegler’s “School Matters” column is special to The Cambrian. Email suggested topics to him at soroka@ix.netcom.com.

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