Deborah Barnekow: Music belongs in the classroom |

Deborah Barnekow: Music belongs in the classroom

Stewart Oksenhorn

In her four years as music education and outreach coordinator for the Aspen Music Festival and School, Deborah Barnekow has been bringing music into local classrooms.

She has seen young faces light up at the prospect of banging percussion instruments from around the world; she has seen students use music to have academic insights that had eluded them without the musical connections.

For Barnekow, however, it wasn’t enough.

“I got frustrated about the fact that sometimes we’d come for a few hours, and then leave, and that was it,” said Barnekow, whose program included bringing professional musicians into local schools for demonstrations, discussions and concerts.

“We’d come give them this wonderful enrichment and then run away. I was concerned that we weren’t really integrating ourselves into the curriculum.”

So this year, Barnekow took the Music Festival’s outreach program, M.O.R.E. – an acronym for Musical Odysseys Reaching Everyone – and spun off a new, more intensive arm – M.O.R.E. MusicPlus.

The new program adopts several fourth-grade classes – four classes in Carbondale Elementary School, and one in the Aspen Community School – and provides them with something more than the quick musical hits of the past.

Through the 2000-01 academic year, the chosen fourth-graders will be visited by four different musical groups – a percussion group, a wind ensemble, a children’s chorale and the inventive ensemble Eighth Blackbird. The M.O.R.E. Music Program will continue to provide less-intensive music education in other classes.

The students in MusicPlus will get much more than a quick introduction to the instruments and the music. Beginning with the Percussion Discussion program, which has been in the selected schools the past two weeks, the children will receive instruction on the instruments, and extended discussions about the music.

Each residency program will conclude with a concert at the Music Festival’s Harris Hall. On Friday, the students will attend a Percussion Discussion concert – also open to the public – at Harris Hall; some students will even get to perform on the Harris Hall stage.

Barnekow believes the intensive program will lead to a lasting interest in music for at least some of the fourth-graders. She calls the fourth grade “a pivotal year” for academic and intellectual curiosity and stimulation.

“Quite often, music becomes a deeper commitment and enjoyment for them, or it doesn’t,” said Barnekow. “If you get kids interested in fourth grade, they might stay interested through the middle school years, which is a critical time. They have a tremendous amount of energy from fourth to eighth grade.”

As important as the strictly musical aspect, the music education will be placed in a broader context of reading, writing and arithmetic. The Percussion Discussion will be related to Native American culture and math; the wind ensemble to science and the planets; the children’s chorale to Colorado history and acoustics. The idea is to use music to illuminate other academic areas.

“We get attached to their curriculum,” said Barnekow. “We plan with their teachers to integrate what we’re doing with what’s being taught in the classroom. It’s hard to touch on music without touching on history and geography and reading and writing. My goal is to take a few morsels off of their plate, and by presenting it through the arts, kids who aren’t getting it will start to get it.”

In addition to the pure learning, Barnekow also has seen another benefit to bringing intensive music education into the schools. School can become fun when it involves participating in a drum circle, or learning to harmonize.

“Who doesn’t want to play a drum?” said Barnekow. “Who doesn’t want to have this thrill of playing in a large ensemble of drums? It’s that dreamy look in their face that you know they’ve got it, that they’re in the groove of playing.”

Percussion Discussion, led by Adams State College director of percussion studies Michael Sherpa, will present a concert at Harris Hall on Friday, at 6:30 p.m. The concert, part of the Aspen Music Festival’s Family Concert series, is free and open to the public.

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