More than Mary and her lamb: The true impact of music education and AustinSoundwaves Youth Orchestra
The question persists at the administrative level of Texas schools: “Do kids really need art and music education?”
In the minds of many, including brass at the Hispanic Alliance for the Performing Arts, the answer remains: “Yes, absolutely, they do.”
HAPA has collaborated with UT’s College of Fine Arts to build a free orchestral music program for youth in Austin. Austin Soundwaves Youth Orchestra performed its 2012 end-of-term concert on Tuesday, May 15, at UT’s Bates Recital Hall.
Based out of a charter preparatory school located in the East Austin enclave nestled south of the Austin and Northwestern Railway line between Ed Bluestein Blvd. and Airport Rd., Austin Soundwaves accepted its first wave of 40 students in Fall 2011. The program has grown to include 65 students in the months since its founding, and this week’s performance marked the debut of the Austin Soundwaves Choir, a vocal program designed to complement the initiative’s instrumental foundation.
Inspiration for the Austin program comes from Social Action for Music, a public education program pioneered in 1975 by Venezuelan economist and musician José Antonio Abreu.
Abreu’s vision was to bring music education to poor and otherwise underprivileged children in his home country. His program, which came to be known internationally as El Sistema, has since expanded to include more than 180 youth and children’s orchestras in Venezuela, serving about 250,000 music-hungry kids nationwide.
One glance at the system’s methodology shows that El Sistema — and, by extension, Austin Soundwaves — is more than just a music program. According to Reid Schwartz, who handles promotions for HAPA, the El Sistema philosophy not only develops musical skill in its young learners but “teaches children teamwork, focus and other skills that will help them succeed and stay in school.”
It’s those intangibles of arts instruction that never seem to penetrate the budgetary brains of Texas’s education bureaucrats. Music education isn’t just about teaching kids how to play “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on the glockenspiel.
Working together musically helps children to learn how to concentrate, as individuals and in collectives, as well as form the sort of healthy working relationships that will benefit them throughout their schooling and for the rest of their lives.
As the cadre of Texas superintendents, legislators and other pencil-pushing football fans continues to wring its hands over “necessary” funding cuts for the arts in public schools, it’s encouraging that groups are rising up to show their support for the development of well-rounded young minds.
It’s also encouraging that the local community agrees — Austin has already mustered the total first-year funding goal of $250,000 for Soundwaves and its endeavors.
Austin Soundwaves will be holding its summer program at East Austin College Prep from June 11 - June 29 (excluding Wednesdays). For more information or to register, call 512-583-2572 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also donate to the program’s planned expansion here.