RV Symphony brings music back to school

The RVS is covering the cost of Carnegie Hall's Link Up program at two Phoenix-Talent elementary schools
LEFT: Third-graders Josh Mellin, left, and Josh Schultz participate in a new music program at Orchard Hill Elementary School on Wednesday.Julia Moore

Music teacher Lori Calhoun has 19 third-graders at Orchard Hill Elementary form shapes with their hands to represent the pitches they sing on their way through the musical scale during a class Wednesday.

A year ago, the students wouldn't have known that "fa" is represented by a thumb down, because the school had no regular music instruction.

But now the Rogue Valley Symphony has brought music classes to Orchard Hill third-graders, six years after music was eliminated from the curriculum because of budget constraints. Phoenix-Talent School District's other two elementary schools also are participating.

The symphony is covering the cost of the Link Up program created by Carnegie Hall to allow elementary students in grades three through five to explore music.

"We as a symphony want to be relevant to the entire community, not just the people who come to experience the classics," says RVS Music Director Martin Majkut.

Five members of the symphony, who are paid for their teaching, work with nine regular classroom teachers during the one-hour, weekly sessions. Third-grade teacher Julie MacKinnon, whose class is learning from Calhoun, went through a half-day in-service session with the other teachers to learn about Link Up.

About 200 third-graders will get instruction. Next year they will move on to lessons with a recorder, while new third-graders will start on the lessons that are a vocal exploration of melody in music from standard classical pieces.

In 2015, fifth-graders will join the rotation.

"It is a long-term project. That's the only way to make sure it makes some impact," says Majkut.

Calhoun is principal clarinetist with the symphony. She also has taught in other Southern Oregon public schools, gives private lessons and performs in musical theater.

Wednesday's lesson began with students standing up and breathing in and out, getting more air into their lungs each time.

Next, Calhoun asks, "What is music?" Kids give answers as she explores ideas about sound, vibration, melody and harmony based on their responses.

After the hand exercise with the musical scale, Calhoun has the group sing Aaron Copland's "I Bought Me a Cat." This leads to instruction on how to sing animal sounds, including neighing horses, barking dogs, clucking hens, mooing cows and an oinking pig that gets two notes.

"I'm still hearing some funny mooing. I'm hearing some cows that might be falling in the grass," Calhoun exclaims.

The Rogue Valley Symphony chose the Phoenix-Talent School District, in part, because it has strong music programs at both the middle and high school, says Executive Director Cybele Abbett.

The total program cost will be a little less than $30,000 this year. Funding comes from grants, designated gifts from symphony patrons and donations from people in the district who want to further musical education, says Abbett.

"It's a need in the district," says Orchard Hill Principal Brent Barry, who is coordinating the program for all three schools. In recent years, music education has been limited to short visits of a few weeks by instructors.

At the end of the school year, all the students will perform with the orchestra, singing songs they've studied. A date and location for the show has not been set.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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