Offering vocal music, other fine arts in local schools a great idea

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

At Thursday’s meeting of the Carroll County School Board, there was discussion of bringing more fine arts and humanities subjects back into the schools.

Superintendent Lisa James said she wants to see choir offered at Kathryn Winn Primary School, as well as the other schools in the district. She says there are a lot of students in the district with vocal talent who would benefit.

I couldn’t agree more.

I participated in music or choir classes from the time I was in kindergarten until I graduated from high school. In fact, when I was in eighth-grade, I was chosen to be in a swing choir. We performed a patriotic program at elementary schools all over the county.

It was a lot of fun, and certainly one of the highlights of my academic career. Why? Because I was not blessed with athletic ability and, while I was intelligent, I wasn’t “academic bowl” material.

Growing up in a rural Ohio school district in the late 1960s and throughout the ’70s, there were few opportunities for extracurricular activities. Back in those days, getting a car when you were 16 only happened to kids with rich parents – or kids lucky enough to get jobs.

I did participate in 4-H and was a Campfire Girl (for about two weeks). I also joined a summer softball team when I was in sixth grade, but quickly discovered that I’m clumsy and have no depth perception. It’s hard to catch a ball if you are convinced it’s going to hit you in the head.

When I was a reporter in Connecticut in the early 1990s, I covered a school district. Times were tough then; the real-estate market tanked on the East Coast (and elsewhere, I presume), though not as badly as this past year.

So, everyone had to start tightening their belts – especially the schools. One by one, arts education classes were sliced from curriculums to save money. If you don’t have music class, you don’t need music teachers. Voila, the budget is reduced.

At the time there was an uproar, particularly in Fairfield County, Conn., where many wealthy, well-known stars of stage and screen resided. Everyone suspected that once cut, these programs may never return.

I’m glad to see that educators, at least here in Carroll County, see the benefits of music education that goes beyond band. Don’t get me wrong, band is wonderful too. But not all of us have the talent or the “stick-to-it-iveness” to play instruments.

In addition to swing choir, I had small roles in the two musical productions that were performed during my tenure at Crestview High School. I was a munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz” and played Belinda Cratchett (who, thankfully, only had about three lines) in “A Christmas Carol.”

These are memories I’ll treasure for a lifetime. In fact, I’ve forgotten a lot of what I did in high school, but I’ve never forgotten these.

Being in chorus, I learned how to sight-read music, which some musicians don’t even know how to do.

I appreciate music of most genres, and listen intently for harmonies and other nuances.

I’m pretty sure there have been studies that show learning about music teaches other things, such as logic and some math skills – counting time, for instance.

I commend the school district for setting this as a goal. I sincerely look forward to attending the first vocal concert at Carroll County schools.

Phyllis McLaughlin is editor of The News-Democrat.