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MAY, 2, 2022- The Palmyra-Macedon Central School District has yet again been honored with the Best Communities for Music Education designation from the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation.
The district is receiving the honor for the eighth-consecutive year.
Pal-Mac is being recognized for its outstanding commitment to music education. Now in its 23rd year, the Best Communities for Music Education designation is awarded to districts that demonstrate outstanding achievement in efforts to provide music access and education to all students.
To qualify for the Best Communities designation, Lead Teacher Cindy Hill had to answer detailed questions about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program and community music-making programs. Responses were verified with school officials and reviewed by The Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas.
Superintendent Dr. Robert Ike said:
"I am so proud of our music program for continuing to be a champion of open access and high-quality musical education for all of our students. This award yet again highlights the ongoing efforts of students, staff, and parents, and the Board of Education and I are proud to support the program."
Keep reading below to take an inside look at what makes the music program so special.
A LOOK INSIDE THE PROGRAM
ACCESS TO MUSIC
We spoke to Hill, who touched on the honor itself, as well as what makes Pal-Mac’s music program unique.
“We are absolutely committed from the top down to making sure that every child has access to music if they want to be in the program,” Hill said.
Here’s what that means at Pal-Mac.
According to Hill, several school districts around the area have a scheduling model where band and choir are scheduled outside of the regular school day. At Palmyra-Macedon, those outlets are offered during the school day (we’ll get more in-depth with that later)
Hill says holding choir and band outside of the school day is a barrier to students and families who may not have access to transportation outside of the offered school buses. She said the schedule format could also pose a problem for families who use daycares.
EARLY ACCESS EQUALS LATER GROWTH
So why is it important to provide the ease of access? Beyond scheduling importance, Hill says music can benefit children’s learning abilities at every level from K-12.
Hill sees students at an early age, as she instructs classes at the Pal-Mac Primary School, which is for students in K-2. When we spoke to her, she had a class marching to the beat of her wooden xylophone, where she occasionally would stop playing the beat, with the expectation the students would stop marching.
As the lesson continued, she threw in a singing element, which then gave way to the students playing their own xylophones and singing along.
“We’re teaching the basic music skills like how to keep a steady beat or how to read rhythms,” Hill said. “That helps the child be able to go on the path of being a lifelong learner in the area of music.”
Looking beyond the area of music, Hill says all those patterns and rhythms help grow a student’s creativity, vocabulary, and their multi-cultural knowledge.
Using music, Hill said she opens the door for students to learn other languages, like Swahili, which is what she had students singing as part of her lesson. She says it’s key to learning about other cultures in the process.
“We can’t take a group of sixth-graders over to Africa and show them what singing, and dancing looks and sounds like in Ghana” Hill said. “But with technology, we have the opportunity to look at that and then be able to say okay these are the ways that people celebrate in Ghana, and we are going to respect that culture by copying that ourselves.”
On another note, Hill says by learning the patterns and breaking down measures, students are strengthening their mathematical skills
Going further with the technology aspect, students can get hands-on access to not just their instruments, but also digital music-making as well. As they get older, classes use tools ranging from iPads to Chromebooks as another way to help students learn and practice music concepts.
A PROGRAM OF CHOICE
As mentioned, students get a hands-on music experience right out of the gate. In grades K-5, they have general music classes like Hill’s at least once a week. General music incorporates part of the district’s International Baccalaureate (IB) programs into the learning. Students first play the flutophone, a wind instrument, in second grade followed by a recorder in third grade.
When students reach the fourth grade, they take part in the district’s brand-new “Band Explorers” program, which gives them the chance to practice with a variety of band instruments to see if it sparks an interest in a specific instrument.
All fourth-grade students also take choir, but then it’s up to them if they want to continue in fifth grade and beyond.
The high school’s Select Choir just recently returned from a trip to sing in New York City, the group has traveled both nationally and internationally in previous years.
At sixth and seventh grade level, students have general music every other day. All students who are not in band or chorus are in a general music class.
Once a student reaches the eighth grade, they are enrolled in an integrated arts class, which is held in conjunction with arts teachers and librarians. The class meets once every four days.
Hill says due in part to the district’s Scholarship instrument program, each year the Intermediate School has seen 80% of all fourth graders join band.
“We do find the numbers drop off just a little bit as kids get older, just because Pal-Mac offers so many incredible opportunities for kids,” Hill said. “But we still have a pretty high retention rate, and I give credit for that high rate in our programs to my amazing colleagues.”
A CAREER- READY FUTURE
Hill said the music team’s commitment to student education doesn’t stop at just speech-building and mathematics. At the end of the day, she says they’re opening students up to a possible future of music as a career.
“Am I going to be a performer, and look for a college where I can study how to be better at my instrument or my voice?” Hill said. “Or am I going to be someone who has learned these different styles of music and has learned these different technologies to create music, and am I going to be a composer?”
She added that by using the iPads, students could also explore electronic beat making, though using the traditional instruments could open a possibility of going into instrument repair or construction as another field.
“We want to be able to have kids, when they’re leaving high school, to have some thoughts and some ideas about where their career may take them in the future,” Hill said.
As Hill mentioned before, the Pal-Mac music staff is stacked with a team of certified and practicing musicians. All of the music department’s specialists are women.
“The people really make this program.,” Hill said. “These are ladies who are 100% dedicated to their art. Many of them perform outside the school day themselves.”
Here’s a breakdown of the background of our instructors:
- Hill (Primary School)- Guest conducted at an elementary All County
- Emily Herrmann (Intermediate School)- Board member of the Perinton Concert Band. Also plays in the Fairport Fire Department Band, and Newark Park Band
- Becky Ferrigno (Intermediate School) - Published author
- Liz Kockler (Middle School) - National Board Certified Educator
- Kathy Haynes (Middle School) – Member of Southern Tier Symphony and Genesee Symphony Orchestra
- Allison Cramner (Middle School)-Judge for the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA)
- Kayla Osika- Select Choir (High School) - New York State School Music Association Adjudicator
- Debra Davis (High School)- Former adjunct instructor at SUNY Fredonia
“They’re still at concerts and still supporting each other and they’re at concerts and they’re out there being there for the kids,” Hill said. “So, I really want to make sure I’m giving a huge amount of recognition to the people who work in this department.”
While continuing to thank her colleagues, Hill touched on their ability to overcome challenges. The biggest challenge of course, was providing music education to students while navigating COVID-19 restrictions at the same time.
Hill said when COVID rules mandated kids had to be 12 feet apart to play an instrument, teachers couldn’t fit more than nine children in a room to have band or choir. Teachers at the Middle School had classes spread out in cohorts which blended choir, band and general music students together.
“That’s hard for children,” Hill said. “It’s difficult because most children joined an ensemble to be working together cohesively with a group. Getting kids to survive that time period and continue their art and continue to practice was a challenge for our instructors. They took it on though.”
Oh, did they ever.
Instructors at all levels decided to turn their challenges with space into a challenge students could take on from the comforts of their own backyards, literally.
Beginning in April 2020, teachers posted weekly videos that challenged students to submit a video or picture of them playing a song that matched up with that week’s theme. Both teachers and students showed off their skills from their living rooms, basements, and even swimming pools.
“Our teachers went to the ends of the earth and took every trick out of their hats to get kids to continue playing,” Hill said.
The challenges didn’t end once students returned to school for the 2021-2022 school year. With both masking and physical distancing measures still in place, some ensembles like the fifth-grade band, couldn’t all fit on the same stage.
In February, band leader Emily Herrmann choreographed a virtual concert. Using several digital cameras placed through the intermediate school gym, she recorded students playing multiple songs and then edited the whole show for parents to enjoy at home. The recording marked the first time every fifth-grade band member had performed under the same roof since the pandemic began.
RETURN OF COMMUNITY CONCERTS
As the semester moved forward, concerts came back. Both the seventh and eighth grade bands held their Winter concerts at the Performing Arts Center (PAC). The district’s All-County representatives also performed in their respective shows. All-County applies to students from grades 4-8.
At the High School-level, the bands were able to perform in front of a packed PAC crowd as part of their “Cabaret Night” performance on Feb.5.
Perhaps the biggest show of the year took place on Wednesday, April 6, which marked the return of the district’s “Jazz Night” The night featured a special guest: Nationally recognized recording artist Al Chez, and his band, The Brothers of Funk Big Band.
Chez spent the day holding clinics with music students before taking the stage with both the middle and high school jazz ensembles.
Most recently, the high school band held its spring concert on April 28, the evening also served as the last show of the year for seniors.
Hill says the performances serve a dual purpose to both highlight student work, but also educate the surrounding community.
“We’re showing them all different styles of music, they’re also learning about different sounds, different instruments,” Hill said.
Hill added that most shows put on by the program are free and open to the public, which continues their goal to keep music accessible to anyone.
Looking at the return to the classroom, and concerts, Hill says she and her colleagues are already noticing a growing trend. She says there is “a lot more” retention of musical skills than what they previously expected.
“We’re seeing that kids and teachers have been extremely resilient, they’ve come back strong,” Hill said. “And there’s a big excitement in our community about having live performances again.”
Hill left off by saying the path to get here was tough, calling it a struggle.
“But we’re back,” she said.
“I’ve never had a music experience that I didn’t enjoy, so I was like, this is what I want do for the rest of my life because I enjoy it. I feel like learning earlier is good because it gives lots of children an opportunity.”
Faith Beals- Trumpet (11th grade)
“Obviously I’ve gained musical talent, but I’ve also met new people through band, and I enjoy it. It’s a class that I can come to and I know I am going to have fun.”
Dani Kuntz -Percussion (11th grade)