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Education/Community Engagement

The Music Education and Outreach Society

Education/Community Engagement

The WSO Caravan

In 1993 the work of researchers Dr. Gordon Shaw, a physicist at the University of California at Irvine, and Dr. Frances Rauscher, a psychologist, now at the University of Wisconsin, yielded findings that are now familiar as the “Mozart Effect”.  Following this discovery, research conducted with groups of pre-school and elementary school children, conducted by Dr. Mark Tramo, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School, proved that there is an “overlap” in the neurons used to process music, language, mathematics and abstract reasoning.  Dr. Tramo’s team opined that “exercising” the brain through music actually strengthens cognitive skills in children. 

More recent studies have revealed the intellectual, educational, social, and emotional benefits that studying music can have on children ranging from 6 months to 16 years old and beyond.  For example, studies conducted at the University of Sarasota and East Texas State University revealed that middle and high school students who participated in band or orchestra classes scored significantly higher than their non-musical peers in standardized tests.  A study performed at the University of Central Florida found that young children with developed rhythm skills perform better academically in early school years. In Rhode Island, researchers used first graders who were lagging behind scholastically, matriculated them into arts groups, providing them with music and visual arts training. After seven months, the students were tested and the results indicated that they had caught up to their fellow students in reading and surpassed their classmates in math by 22 percent. In the second year of the project, the arts students widened this margin even further. Students were also evaluated on attitude and behavior. Classroom teachers noted improvement in these areas also. Lastly, a McGill University study found that pattern recognition and mental representation scores improved significantly for students given piano instruction over a three-year period. They also found that self-esteem and musical skills measures improved for the students given piano instruction.

These advantages from musical training transfer beyond high school and college. In fact, music majors are the most likely group of college graduates to be admitted to medical school. Across a wide range of medical schools, 66 percent of music majors who applied to med school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group.  By way of comparison, only 44 percent of biochemistry majors were admitted. Also, a study of 7,500 university students revealed that music majors scored the highest reading scores among all majors including English, biology, chemistry and math.

The Westfield Symphony Orchestra has found that an age specific professional performance and interactive experience between the students and the musicians adds a singular dimension to the musical life of these young children, providing both lessons and memories that last with them for years.  This experience not only fosters a life long love of music, but also potentially provides increased opportunity for cognitive and social achievements in the students’ futures.

How the WSO Performs the Music Caravan Program

Sadly, few urban area schools provide the opportunities for their students to experience the energy and excitement created by a live professional performance.  To enhance children’s’ comprehension of classical music as well as their appreciation, and to stimulate their minds in general, the Westfield Symphony Orchestra has created a “Music Caravan”.  This outreach program is specifically designed to reach communities and institutions that might not otherwise have access to cultural stimuli and offers live classical music performances by professional musicians, along with a highly interactive educational experience.  This adventure in music is personally led by the symphony’s internationally acclaimed Music Director, David Wroe.

The nature of the “Music Caravan” program is highly interactive. The ensemble performs in a child-friendly environment (such as a classroom, cafeteria or gymnasium) The musical presentation is customized with the on-site curricula instruction team according to age level and a particular group’s attention span but customarily is about 45-50 minutes.  The ensemble presents short, suitable examples of the orchestral repertoire and/or pieces specifically designed for educational outreach and motivation.  The selections are sprightly and calculated to highlight the different instruments that comprise an orchestra, underline their intonations and demonstrate their power to replicate human communication, particularly drama, emotion and mimicry.

The format of the presentation is designed to relate musical disciplines to curricular and practical life disciplines such as:

Musical expression Self expression and confidence
Learning and practicing music Discipline and study habits
Excellence in performance Personal Achievement
Music theory Mathematics
Music history World history
Music genres Music’s role in society

Following a four minute “crash course” in conducting, the students are invited to conduct the orchestra in an exercise that links their physical gestures to the mood of the piece.  The student audience is then invited to implement what they have learned to a musical cue.  The students are assisted to set the beat with conducting gestures, according to which the ensemble plays.

Through an interactive discussion, the differences in size and sound of the members of the string family are explained and demonstrated.  The versatility of the string instruments is illustrated.  The program culminates as the ensemble plays together, assimilating all the precepts used during the illuminating presentation.  The children are enthralled and often motivated to learn more about music, listen to music and perhaps learn to play a musical instrument.

This program is well adapted to all ages and abilities.  In fact, it has been performed in a variety of school settings, including facilities for the handicapped, along with performances before autistic and emotionally disturbed children.  The performances before such audiences have been so successful that the WSO has been invited to return for subsequent school years.

Apart from the performance and educational component, the children also have an opportunity to learn some conducting skills, ask questions and share their own artistic experiences.  The feedback we receive from the children, parents, teachers and administrators is very positive.  The musicians themselves have greatly enjoyed these productions themselves, and the opportunity to foster a love of classical music amongst these children.  In the past, the “Music Caravan” has supported such concerts as Engelbert Humperdink’s Hansel & Gretel, and Camille Saint-Saens’ The Carnival of the Animals.  Additional materials regarding the “Music Caravan” are available upon request.