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Success Stories

Our programs have helped students to master skills and gain self-confidence.

By working closely with principals, ETM-LA has helped schools graduate from having no music education at all to employing their own music teachers and sustaining programs beyond ETM-LA’s involvement. In addition, we have helped others to replicate our model in other communities. Read about the transformative power of music education for our students:

"Music Inspires Me"

April* braves the cold, wintry conditions to endure a 45-minute commute from her home in the Bronx to attend LaGuardia Arts High School, where she is a freshman instrumentalist. Despite the weather, April is excited for school. She has her backpack, clarinet, and smile all visible as she boards the Manhattan-bound train. “I like the way music inspires people…and makes you smile from within,” April says, citing music’s presence in her daily routine as a source of happiness.

April’s love of music first began when she was a student at P.S. 76 in the Bronx, a school that before partnering with Education Through Music in 2005 had no music program for its students. Beginning as early as the 3rd grade, April thrived in the music classroom, taking quickly to musical concepts and showing advanced skill. By 4th grade, April had landed one of the lead roles in her school’s musical production of The Castaways.

Prior to performing in the musical April struggled with stage-fright. She learned to channel her nerves and build confidence, however, with the help of her music teacher at the time, Ms. Jessica Parr: “The show Castaways helped me uncover that there is nothing to be afraid of, [you] just have to get out there and enjoy what you do.” That same year, April was selected to perform at the ETM Gala at the Waldorf Astoria, where she had another transformative experience that helped fuel her passion for music. It’s these experiences April attributes to “bringing out [her] personality” and inspiring her to join the school band and learn the clarinet.

By 5th grade April was excelling in all subjects as an honor student, which she credits to the skills and work ethic she was developing through her general music and elective band classes. “Music has helped me to focus more. I have to listen to other musicians when they play, follow along and make sure I’m playing the correct notes and at the right tempo. This experience helps me in the classroom to concentrate [regardless of the distractions around me] on what the teacher is instructing.” April has even incorporated musical elements into her study habits by developing techniques that make the experience of learning more fun: “When I’m studying vocabulary,” she says, “I sing out the words and it helps me to study better. I also play jazz music while I’m doing homework.”

Luckily, April was able to continue developing her clarinet skills by attending another ETM partner school in her community, M.S. 180—ETM’s first partner middle school in the Bronx. As an 8th grader April not only challenged herself musically, under the direction of her band instructor Kevin Heathwood, but also her peers, as the President of the Band. She describes holding this leadership position as “a rewarding experience” that helped her to build a close bond with her musical family.

During her final year at M.S. 180, April decided to take a chance and apply to LaGuardia Arts where she would have the opportunity to grow as a student-musician– and she was accepted! For her first semester, April studied sight singing and wind instrument courses. She loved how these classes offered a safe, constructive space for her to learn from her peers and gain greater feedback on technique and ensemble playing: “It has been great…I have learned a lot, and it’s been wonderful being surrounded by so much talent,” April says of her high school experience so far. April looks forward to taking music theory next semester and joining an extracurricular activity next year once she has better adjusted to her commute from the Bronx.

Education Through Music promotes the use of music education to help students reach their fullest potential in school and life. We are so proud of April – and congratulate her and her family on a successful academic career. April is a testament to the power of music education, and exemplifies our hope of providing students with the tools they need to grow to be thoughtful, creative and engaged leaders and members of their community.

*The student’s name was changed to protect her privacy.

The Flute Player

(as told by the music teacher)

Some students act “tough” to cope with growing up in tough environments. But early exposure to the arts can often allow these students to express their emotions, reflect on and cope with their environments in a creative, constructive and healthy manner. For those students whose first exposure to a true arts curriculum begins later in their schooling it can be difficult to shed their tough exteriors to truly engage in the learning process. An activity like singing in class, for instance, is viewed as “uncool” and resisted at great lengths.

By fifth grade, Kevin* had earned a reputation as his school’s “tough, cool guy.” When music class was first offered at Kevin’s school, PS 72, he used it as an opportunity to act out. Kevin had a lot of influence on his peers who followed his lead and misbehaved in music class. This was until Kevin started the current school year, when he became eligible to join the school’s band ensemble.

Kevin was surprisingly quick to sign up for band and to select the flute as his instrument. Kevin has been a natural at the flute and looks forward to music class and band ensemble every week. In band, especially, Kevin is in his element. He is often seen helping his classmates and enjoying the experience of learning and playing music. His music teacher, Morgan Ferris, sees him for both general music and band, and has noted that Kevin’s positive attitude has transferred over into general music class. Kevin is now more focused and well-behaved. After building a positive rapport with Kevin through band, Ms. Ferris has noticed that Kevin no longer disrupts, and is instead a more active participant in both settings.

While playing the flute has come naturally to Kevin, he also works to improve his ability and knowledge. Kevin has used many of his lunch periods to practice on his flute instead of getting into trouble. Not only has the flute kept Kevin from detention, but it has also increased his motivation and overall engagement in school. This has been a nice, noticed change for Kevin’s other academic teachers who have utilized his new-found interest in band to focus his attention in their classes as well. Some teachers have even used extra time at the end of class to allow Kevin to discuss his love of music or to perform for his classmates as a reward for being a productive member of the classroom.

And while Kevin has not made a complete turnaround (as he still shies away from singing), he’s shown great maturity and growth. Kevin has also become interested in using his “cool” guy image to now set a good example for others. Currently, he volunteers with Ms. Ferris to help her teach the Kindergarten classes “I’m a Little Snow Flake” in preparation for the school’s upcoming winter concert.

*The student’s name was changed to protect his identity and privacy.

Finding Her Voice: A Student Experience

(as told by the music teacher)

ETM believes that all children deserve access to high-quality music instruction, including students with behavioral problems and special needs.

Sarah,* a 4th grader in the Bronx, would frequently get into trouble for her disruptive outbursts in class from calling out to going off task. Sarah’s inability to channel her energy in a productive manner was impacting her learning across disciplines…until she developed an interest in my music class.

As a new general music teacher at my school, I knew it was important to implement standards for participation, musicianship and behavior to set my students up for success. With Sarah this involved helping her to become an active participant in class discussions and singing exercises. I told Sarah, “You have the potential to be successful in music.”

I want all of my students, especially those students like Sarah who lack self-confidence and support, to know that the music room is a safe space. Regardless of what happened in their last class, every student gets a blank slate and the opportunity in music to be the student they want to be.

As the school year progressed, I began to notice a difference in Sarah. She was learning through music to properly control and express her emotions, and was becoming a successful music student in the process.

Due to her steady improvements in class, I selected Sarah as a participant to join the ensemble chorus—comprised of students from across ETM’s 28 partner schools—to perform at the 2013 ETM Gala. While the school administration was hesitant to consent to this decision, due to Sarah’s history of outbursts, I pushed for her to have this experience. They reluctantly agreed.

Sarah was ecstatic when she was chosen, and was looking forward to singing at the event. After I explained the rehearsal requirements, Sarah worried that her opportunity might be in jeopardy. Sarah wanted to practice, and understood its importance, but quickly informed me that she might have difficulty in making the necessary travel arrangements to rehearse.^ She looked heartbroken. After talking with one of Sarah’s social workers we were able to get her to the rehearsals.

During the rehearsals and actual performance, Sarah’s positive energy, level of engagement and enjoyment were evident. In fact, Sarah was one of the best-behaved students there! At the last rehearsal, in particular, my eyes swelled when I saw her beaming smile. She was leaning forward virtually on her tip-toes so engaged. She was listening attentively to all instructions, singing—and more importantly—fully embracing the experience. Music has helped Sarah to stand out among her peers, and not for her tantrums, but for her talent. I am so proud of her progress.

*The student’s name was changed to protect her privacy and identity.
^ Selected participants’ parents were asked to make travel arrangements and in Sarah’s case this required traveling from her school in the Bronx to practice in Manhattan and back home.

Achieving Academic Success Through Music

(as told by the music teacher)

The following story was written as told by ETM music teacher, Brittany Kolodziej who teaches orchestra at PS 68 and MS 529 in the Bronx. PS 68, a K-5 school, has partnered with ETM since 1997, during which time it has established its general music program for all students and an orchestra program which serves grades 4-5.

From the first day Jamal* entered my cello class I knew there was something special about him. Jamal was anxious to learn and came to class and rehearsals throughout the fall and winter season with wide eyes and a huge smile.

I’ll never forget one day in November when I had Jamal’s class for the last period of the day on a Friday afternoon: he came into class almost running, unpacked, and immediately began playing the blues on his cello. “Miss Kolodziej,” he said, “I’m so glad it’s time for cello class. I’ve had this music running through my head all day and now I finally get to let it out!”

A few weeks later he began missing his lessons. His teacher informed me she was holding him because he “couldn’t even write a sentence.” She told me that his grades were so low in English Language Arts (ELA) that he could not afford to miss time in her classroom. I fought this battle and lost. Jamal, however, still came to morning orchestra rehearsals before school and even gave up some recess time to practice with me. He was determined to get his grades up so he could stay in orchestra. As time went on, Jamal showed me a few of his own music compositions. It seemed that composing music was also helping him to compose words, sentences, and paragraphs in his ELA class. During this time, he fell in love with Yo-Yo Ma’s music, and decided he was going to be a famous composer/cellist someday too.

By the start of spring, Jamal showed me some of his school work and smiled when he told me that his grades were up. In orchestra, he never skipped a beat.

I almost cried, a few weeks ago, when he brought me an essay he wrote about what music meant to him. I could see his effort come through in his writing. It was evident that he wrote and re-wrote his story many, many times before giving it to me. He wrote beautifully. I had seen where he was in the winter, and the improvement in his writing was astounding.

Jamal’s hard work in both cello class and ELA are paying off and he has been selected for an USDAN scholarship to attend a summer arts camp. His gift and passion for music has motivated him to rise above his challenges in ELA. He is one of the most gifted students in the orchestra and his musical abilities are top notch. I am so excited for what is in store for him.

*The student’s name was changed to protect his privacy.

"The Next Joshua Bell?"

(as told by the music teacher)

Brandon is a 6th grade violinist who didn’t care for school and spent every minute he could on his skateboard. All of that changed when Joshua Bell came to visit. When Brandon saw Joshua Bell play live, he suddenly realized what the possibilities are on the violin. It was like skateboarding tricks – but with music!

Suddenly, he started looking up videos on YouTube, trying out tricks on his instrument, and transcribing difficult pieces. He learned Schubert’s “Ave Maria” by ear 100% correctly, and he has been trying to learn the Bach Chaconne [the song that Joshua Bell played for the students]. Brandon comes to school enthusiastically every morning – as soon as he puts his instrument in his locker, I get a stream of questions that he came up with during his practice the night before. He spends his lunch time practicing instead of playing basketball, and I have to kick him out after school or he would play for me all night!

Brandon takes great pride in being able to play things that nobody else can, and he is working hard in school so that he can keep his special lunch time and after-school practicing privileges. Brandon played for the school principal recently. Principal Uzzo sought me out and said,

“You know, that kid is gonna be the next Joshua Bell!”

Learning Vital Skills Through Music

(as told by the music therapist)

A student was referred for music therapy because of a severe deficit in functional mathematics, specifically with coins. The Occupational Therapist had worked with her for nearly a year and a half with limited success on simply identifying and attributing values… I found that this student was incredibly musical and extremely bright in verbal/communication skills… however, her identification of coins was less than 50%.

She was assigned to music therapy for 45 minutes/week. Music Therapy is the direct use of music to reach non-musical goals, including communication, socialization, motor functioning, emotional awareness, cognitive skills and functional academics. As young children develop, many basic functional academics are taught through song. For example the “ABC’s” song helps a preschooler memorize the order of 26 separate bits of information.

This student’s favorite song was “Baby” by Justin Bieber. Because the most ideal therapeutic outcome typically comes through preferred music, she learned a new version of “Baby” with the words of the refrain rewritten to be a mnemonic device. She used Garageband to choose drumbeats/synthesizer parts and record her own voice. We made a CD for her to listen to several times a day. After several weeks, she identified all coins and attributed values with a 100% success rate. As her music therapy continued, she began writing her own verses to rehearse a variety of strategies for counting coins. Another couple of months and several recordings later, she not only identified/attributed values to the coins with 100% success rate, but was counting complex combinations of coins up to a dollar with nearly 100% success.

This absolutely vital life skill, which had escaped this child for nearly 10 years, was taught through music. Did her consistent classroom support, occupational therapy and years of support assist in this acquisition of knowledge? Undoubtedly. However, the motivating and mnemonic power of music was the catalyst that allowed this student to begin to thrive in a public environment.

Student Essay: "Preparing for My School Musical"

‘Have you ever imagined standing on a stage with your friends, music playing, the band playing, your favorite music teacher and a huge audience? Well, I experienced it! Last year in my school we had a concert. The stage was decorated, students were wearing sunglasses and it felt good to be up there in front of my family and with my friends. There were all types of instruments being played during the concert. I learned a lot about music and instruments. While I was on the stage, I felt nervous, but it was great standing next to my friends. We all had to wear the same color. We looked good! We wore yellow and red shirts. I sat in the front of the stage because I had a solo. My music teacher taught me a special song. I held the microphone, took a deep breath, and knew that she and my family were proud of me. As I sang the song, I remember all of the hard work it took for us to perform at the show. I remember staying after school and rehearsing. It made me feel proud of myself, my friends, and my school. During the concert the students were singing, the band was playing, parents were cheering, and some of the kids were playing the piano and drums. I was smiling and felt happy to be on stage because I enjoy music and acting. My music teacher selected me to be a part of the 4th grade chorus and I have a speaking role as a king named “Gilgamesh.” This is a role for my school’s musical called, “Dig it!” I am learning so much from the music program at my school and concerts. I learned lyrics, dance moves, songs, breathing techniques and notes. All of our songs for the concert were about spring time. I also learned that being on the stage is fun. I would like to learn more about music and I also want to join my school’s 5th grade band next year.’

-Bronx partner school student, age 9

"Building Self-Confidence"

(as told by music teacher)

Last year, I had a shy little boy named Justin in one of my music classes who signed up for a special keyboard class after school. He was at every single practice and always came on time and prepared. In music class he would very rarely speak out but always knew the answers when I called on him.

After the winter concert Justin’s mother came to me and told me how much her son loved music. She told me he was never this excited about anything before in the past. I didn’t know that it meant that much to him because he was always so quiet. She told me that he talked about music class and keyboard class all the time and told his mom that it made him feel really good when he was there. When she told me this I got little chills of happiness.

When it came time to cast roles for the school musical, I wanted Justin to take part in it but I wasn’t sure if he would be able to do it because he was so shy. However, I cast him as a speaking role with a good amount of lines. For several months, I worked with him on projection and overcoming his shyness. That night he got up on stage in front of an auditorium full of people and spoke all of his lines perfectly! I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so proud of him. His mother came up to me afterwards to tell me how much confidence music had given him throughout the year. She begged me to put him back in keyboards when he returned the following year because it was helping so much with his self-confidence. Of course I did, and he is now a clarinet player in our P.S. 76 band!”