NEWARK, NJ - Students from nine Newark public schools showcased what they learned in music class this year with a performance on Monday for parents, classmates, and special guests from VH1 Save The Music Foundation.
Abington, Avon, Camden, Hawthorne, Lincoln, Rafael Hernandez, South Street, and First Avenue elementary school students rocked out on drums, guitars, clarinets, cellos, and other instruments supplied by Save The Music to expand access to music education.
“I started playing the violin in 4th grade because VH1 donated string instruments to my school. Music has been part of my life ever since,” Jorge Nieves, a student at South Street Elementary School told the crowd. “It takes a lot of dedication, but it’s fun too. Playing the violin has been one of the best experiences of my life.”
Newark Public Schools received a five-year grant from Save The Music Foundation to boost music education across the district in 2017. Just two years into the program, the number of participating district schools grew from six to 15.
Barringer High School is one of four high schools in the country to pilot a music technology program. The foundation will formally announce this summer they will be expanding the program nationwide and adding another school in Newark. A student DJ from Barringer performed as well.
“It's helping us grow music education at Newark Public Schools at a much quicker pace than we would've been able to do. There’s no way we would've been able to buy this many instruments for this many schools at one time. This investment is paying off in big ways,” said Margaret El, Special Assistant for Visual and Performing Arts.
Prior to the program, some schools had no instruments and some didn’t have enough to be able to lend them out to students to take home to do the practice they need, El said. Schools selected a string or band package for students. Instruments alone are valued at about $45,000.
The program made it possible to schedule consistent music learning beyond general music courses for elementary and middle schools and gave students the opportunity to learn to play instruments of their choice said, Superintendent Roger León.
“Newark is really the model for what Save the Music wants to do all over America. The energy that people in Newark has brought to this project -- from parents to the kids, teachers, and administrators, is truly amazing,” said Henry Donahue, Executive Director of Save The Music Foundation, to the crowd on Tuesday.
“I always say that we make the investment, the upfront investment in the school. But it's all of you all who make the music,” said Donahue.
Though there is currently no data available to show the direct impact of the enhanced music education on students, anecdotes from teachers tell how students are more engaged. In some cases, students who may not have been interested in school in other areas, look forward to school and participating in the music program, El said.
South Street music teacher, David Watson, told TAPinto Newark that he also hears stories of teachers using students’ love for music to incentive them to perform better in another class.
Watson has been a musician for decades and toured for singer Alicia Keys for seven years. He tells students how honing their music craft can make career opportunities and other experiences available to them.
Music education helps students in other subject areas like maths because some elements of mathematics Watson said. Sheet music is written in notes -- whole notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes to name a few -- and music is broken up into time.
For Watson, the best changes he observes in students are the ones that he can’t quantify.
“The biggest thing is when they have a good performance like this,” said Watson, talking about how confident his students are after performing. “The next day, other students who saw them on stage would see them and say ‘Oh those are the guys in the band!’ That’s always a rewarding feeling for me.”
Editor's note: The article originally said seven schools performed. The number was corrected to nine.