“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” So said Plato over two thousand years ago, and we know it to still be true. Opportunities for teaching and making music abound throughout MPCSD. While many California school districts have shrunk or eliminated their music programs, our community remains committed to offering music at all levels. The value of children learning music is borne out over and over in research connecting music learning to self esteem, collaboration, perseverance, language and math skills. Led by our many talented and specifically trained and credentialed music teachers, the MPCSD music program provides students with foundational skills in a variety of musical areas, and the opportunity to pursue music at higher levels in middle school. As teacher Andy Ehling explains, “Instrumental music encompasses so much in one activity. Music students gain confidence, perseverance, cooperation and develop a growth mindset while working towards individual achievement as well as group success. One of my goals is to provide the opportunity for students to see the reward of making music together, and to see the potential of instrumental music.”
In grades kindergarten through third, the district uses the Orff Schulwerk approach to teaching and learning music. Through chanting, poetry, clapping and other body percussion, dance and movement all the skills of music are introduced. As children understand and can do more, more is introduced. The reading and writing of music naturally flows after the fundamental skills are mastered. Using the Orff approach, teachers use music from around the world, or genres that most interest them and their students, in classroom lessons. Ms. Tee teaches music from Africa, Latin America, and blends her expertise in classical music with songs children recognize from current artists. Mr. Ashfield’s background in rock music performance influences the style he puts on songs, with an emphasis on guitar and rhythm in his classes. Orff classes use xylophones, percussion instruments, ukuleles, and recorders, which even though simple, combine to make beautiful symphonic music. Every child can find a way to participate in a collaborative sound and feel proud of their contribution.
After four years mastering the Orff concepts, fourth graders have the option to choose a band or string instrument. Throughout the district, about half to two thirds of students join band or orchestra, with Orff continuing for students who opt not to learn a new instrument. In fourth grade, students are primarily learning how their instrument works and the beginnings of reading music. By fifth grade, they are advancing to reading arranged music and performing concerts, or even choosing to play in the pit orchestra for school musicals. The skills they have built from the Orff program serve well as they grow in confidence on their specific instrument.
Other highlights of MPCSD’s elementary music program include Suzuki for Oak Knoll’s multi-age classes, musicals for third, fourth, and fifth graders, the Laurel School Chorus, Encinal’s Winter Sing for the whole school community. Music is a welcome and vital part of our students’ elementary years, at every campus.
Hillview offers many ways for students to continue - or even start - their instrumental music journey. Sixth graders may join 6th grade band or orchestra, or try music as part of the wheel elective. The Lab Band is open to all students regardless of experience or age. Seventh and eighth graders may join advanced band or orchestra. The Hillview Jazz Band is an audition band that meets before school. Hillview’s musicians perform many times throughout the year and enjoy special experiences like playing at San Francisco City Hall, the Menlo Park Farmers Market, Halloween Hoopla, the Redwood City Holiday Parade, a trip to Disneyland, joint concerts with La Entrada and Menlo Atherton High School, and more. Staying with music into the middle school years offers many rewards to the students and families who make the commitment to music. As students become better readers and players of music, the quality of the ensembles grows exponentially. Trips and performances around the area reinforce the value of what students can do, and their pride in performing for broader audiences makes the dedication they have to their art worthwhile. Students leaving middle school with a strong musical experience have multiple avenues for success and high level learning in high school and beyond.
Thanks to robust and continued community support, in the form of parcel taxes and philanthropic giving, MPCSD remains able and dedicated to providing a music program for all students. When thirty fourth and fifth graders choose to spend their lunchtime jamming together, or learning show tunes, when they reach for guitars as readily as basketballs, we know music is not just an “extra” but a fundamental part of what makes us human.