HISTORIC TRIANGLE — The Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra and Williamsburg-James City County Schools have partnered to promote March’s “Music In Our Schools Month” by addressing social and emotional health through music education.
For years, the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) has partnered with WJCC public schools for their “Peter and the Wolf” program, during which music students rehearse and perform concerts with professional musicians.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic paused the program, J.B. Crowley, marketing and community outreach manager for the orchestra, had an idea.
“I knew that we needed to do something within the school system,” Crowley said. “I knew that we needed to partner with them and support their efforts. No matter what they had planned, I just thought this is a great opportunity for us to not only employ our musicians to do something maybe a little outside of the box, but we could support teachers and educators.”
Along with Carolyn Keurajian, WSO’s executive director, and John Rasky, coordinator for fine arts in WJCC Schools, Crowley created a project for the “Music In Our Schools Month” to connect music education with the social and emotional health of local students.
Rasky asked counselors and music teachers for WJCC schools to create topics that would best address the social and emotional health of their students. WSO has since produced more than 20 fun and educational videos featuring the orchestra’s professional musicians discussing these concepts and relating them to music.
The “Morning Music and Mindfulness Minute” video series airs every morning for students in grades kindergarten through 5th. The teachers are then able to pull from topics in these videos and incorporate them into the lessons that they are currently teaching their students.
Each video is around three minutes long, which is just enough time to keep the students’ attention while bringing them together each morning through the power of music.
Rasky noted that the teachers have been “extremely receptive” to the videos and are “really positive about how it starts their day.”
“When you talk about something like conflict resolution, what does that look like to an elementary student?” Crowley said. “It was figuring out how they can apply that to a real-world scenario. How could our musicians relate real life experience to the social and emotional topics that needed to be discussed?”
The project is the latest of WSO’s educational outreach initiatives with a mission to familiarize elementary school students with musicians and the many different instruments that they play.
“So many times, when you’re in elementary school you think of your band and orchestra classes as it’s just a band or orchestra thing,” Crowley said. “But what we’ve done is show them how music can apply to every area. Whether you’re a band kid, or a baseball player, or someone who just likes to read, this is something for you.”
“Music can connect all of those social and emotional health goals, but also just be something really cool to relate to,” she added.
WSO was also asked to provide a series of videos for WJCC band and orchestra teachers that would teach students about the many different instrument options available to them so that students are to choose which may be the right fit for them.
“We want students to sign up for an instrument in fifth grade, because that will last, if all things go well, until their 12th grade,” Rasky added. “And some of those graduating musicians will be in organizations like Williamsburg Symphony or others around the world. We need musicians to start young and make it to the professional level so it doesn’t die.”
WSO has also conducted more than 65 online instrumental coaching sessions through Zoom in order to give children a chance to take a lesson taught by professional musicians. Each lesson lasts for one hour and is given at no cost.
All of the content and lessons provided by WSO is being funded through grants and donations, making it all so there is not a cost for the students.
“What we’re trying to do is just take away roadblocks for our kids,” Keurajian said. “We also have over 60 instruments in a storage unit where we can loan them out to kids who maybe can’t acquire them on their own because financially there’s an issue.”
“We’ve got to keep them playing, at least give them one or two nights a week where they have to get the instruments out of their case,” Keurajian added. “Be in the community with other kids, even if it’s on Zoom, we hope that we’re making a difference to some of these young people.”
Crowley’s goal is for the project to continue in-person next year so that the students can continue to be exposed to music education.
“My hope is that even some kids that never thought they might have an interest in music, maybe this is actually just going to peak their interest just a little bit,” she added. “Music is the great equalizer. Kids who sometimes don’t feel like they belong, band, chorus and orchestra can give them a place where they’re equal with their peers.”
“I’m hoping once this pandemic is over, this might be a wonderful place for kids to come back together and learn how to be in harmony again with each other,” Crowley added.
You can check out one of the “Morning Music and Mindfulness Minute” videos below, courtesy of the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra and Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools.
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