Music is a life of learning; Austin Public Schools tests out MacPhail program

Published 9:56 am Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Austin Public Schools is adding to its music program with hopes to draw more students into the love of music.

MacPhail President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Babcock and MacPail Center for Music Austin Project Manager Cheryl Collins — who came on this January — presented the MacPhail program, which is currently in a trial period and being researched in Austin, to the school board Monday at its regularly scheduled meeting.

“Right away we found it made a lot of sense,” Babcok said. “There’s an extremely strong community for the arts here.”

Email newsletter signup

MacPhail Center for Music, one of the nation’s oldest and largest music learning non-profits, has brought resources and expertise in music education to Austin. Through an invitation and funding from The Hormel Foundation, MacPhail hopes to build a lasting presence in Austin by bringing more opportunities for students to learn music from MacPhail educators, either over Skype or in the classroom.

Educational Services Director John Alberts was excited about the opportunities that could come of the program implementation in Austin, but the district isn’t ready for that yet.

“We’re kind of testing it out in different places,” Alberts said. “So like Community Learning Center has got some classes that they’re starting, we just tested a lesson over at the high school. So really right now we’re doing just little activities more so to kind of test technologically how this could work through the distance.”

The school district and the Hormel Foundation started discussing the potential partnership in January of 2014. The program has already been put in place at the CLC and has worked with Austin High School and Ellis Middle School a bit as well.

“They’re doing the market research to find out what it would look like to implement,” Alberts said. “So I think we’ll continue to see small bits here and there throughout the next while I guess.”

“Obviously MacPhail is well respected and has a rich series of offerings for music instruction, and can really provide support in areas that we don’t currently have support,” he added. “And enhance the already incredible music program we do have.”

Superintendent David Krenz was excited about the program and hopes it will help students discover a love for music.

“I just think it’s just an outstanding opportunity for our students as well as the community to have this, really an unasked-for gift given to us because of some foresight from MacPhail looking to outreach and the Hormel Foundation,” Krenz said. “And already as stated by our preschool teachers, the excitment of the kids in their early ages really has that opportunity and engages students at another level. And then we know, research says music — not only just listening but participating — does improve reading and mathematic comprehension. It really all fits together.”

ECFE teacher Tana Beckmann said the response from her 16 preschool students has been noticeable.

“Even in the few sessions we’ve had I can tell you I can notice a difference in my students,” she said.

Her class gets taught by a teacher named Amanda every Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. through Skype. They’ve had three sessions so far, and the students have enjoyed it.

“They love it,” Beckmann said. “Every day I hear ‘when do we get to see Miss Amanda again,’ and that’s all week long that’s what we hear about.”

MacPhail hopes to provide custom clinics and workshops for choir, band and orchestra classes.

Krenz said the hope is to have MacPhail educators in the classrooms if all works out, and those could be educators from Austin.

“Their hope is we’ll broaden this and actually have MacPhail instructors right here in Austin,” Krenz said. “And most likely it’ll be Austin folks. We’ve got enough musically gifted individuals who can teach our younger students, our older students, adult students, and that’s what they’re looking for in terms of the pool of resources.”

The program currently costs the district nothing, as the Foundation has donated the money for the program.

Collins is working to meet with community members to understand what Austin residents want and need for music learning. Throughout the next several months Collins will help coordinate informal meetings, focus groups and surveys to determine how MacPhail can best meet the musical needs of the community. Options range from early childhood music classes and individual lessons to music therapy and after-school programs. These listening sessions will also help assess the community’s interest in wanting a physical site for MacPhail.

“Currently our research is probably going to last the duration of the year and then we’ll find out if we need to do any further research,” Collins said.”But we’re already beginning programs and with the help of that research we will find out the needs of the community.”

Collins hopes the students will find a new appreciation for music and let it become a part of their life forever.

“Because music is lifelong learning,” she said.