Giving Thought: Bringing music back into classrooms

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

As funding for public schools has diminished in recent years, many have lamented the loss of arts programs and musical instruction in the classroom. But a new initiative from the governor’s office aims to restore music — instruction as well as instruments — into the lives of Colorado students.

Karen Radman is executive director of Take Note Colorado, a program dedicated to the idea that music is a vital part of a well-rounded education. Take Note is launching pilot projects in five school districts across the state to demonstrate and understand how to expand music offerings to students. It was announced Jan. 23 that Roaring Fork School District is one of the five pilot districts.

Aspen Community Foundation: What is Take Note Colorado? Can you summarize the organization and its mission?

Karen Radman: Take Note Colorado is a statewide initiative started by Gov. John Hickenlooper and operated under Colorado Music Coalition, a new nonprofit organization. When a student wants to take up an instrument or participate in a music program, Take Note will help ensure that there is a way to access instruction and the loan of an instrument. Our goal is for this initiative to go beyond public schools and include students who are homeschooled, in private schools, in juvenile detention facilities or homeless. For the first several years, we’ll work within the public school system simply because we will reach the most students that way. We do not aim to do this alone, however. Take Note hopes to galvanize local communities to work alongside us in support of music for K to 12 students. We hope to be the catalyst, the spark.

ACF: Why is music education important for kids, generally speaking?

KR: Music and the arts are so important for a well-rounded education. Numerous studies demonstrate how playing music enhances fine motor skills, prepares students to learn, advances math achievement, improves memory and more. But it also is important to students’ personal growth because it fosters self-expression, self-confidence and self-discovery. Music education really is a key factor in nourishing the whole child.

I have two boys, 11 and 12, and they’ve been playing instruments and writing songs since they were little. They’re like poster children for what we’re doing and I get to see the results every day.

Beyond the kids themselves, I feel that it’s a fulfillment of our state’s cultural spirit to ensure our students have the opportunity to experience and play music. It’s also an investment in the continued growth of Colorado’s thriving arts economy.

ACF: Please tell us about the governor’s recent announcement of the pilot programs.

KR: On Jan. 23, our co-chairs — Gov. Hickenlooper and Isaac Slade, lead singer of The Fray — visited a school in Aurora to announce the five pilot school districts across the state that Take Note has partnered with. The Roaring Fork School District (which operates schools in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs) is one of them, and the others are in Aurora, Fort Morgan, Grand Junction and La Junta. From the proceeds of our launch benefit concert last May and additional funds we’ve raised, we’ll allocate a total of $450,000 to these districts. That money will support purchases and repairs of instruments, culturally relevant and student-centric music offerings, professional development for teachers and other needs.

Beginning last summer, Take Note leadership has made site visits, observed instruction and conducted individual and focus group interviews to develop these partnerships with the districts. In Roaring Fork, we’re joining not only with the school district but also Carbondale Arts, Jazz Aspen Snowmass In Schools and the Aspen Community Foundation. We are excited to create a template for a regional approach that fulfills Take Note’s vision in communities across Colorado.

ACF: If Take Note is successful, then what will happen over the next three to five years?

KR: We are still trying to understand the extent of the need in Colorado to ensure access to musical instruments and instruction for all the K-through-12 students who want to participate. We are still assessing exactly how long it will take to achieve that goal. However, in the short-term, if we are successful, we will have established partnerships with numerous school districts across the state and identified ways to provide access to music for students in schools where no music programming was offered beforehand.

I hope we’ll mobilize individuals to support the needs in their communities and raise awareness about the importance of music in K-through-12 education. I also want to enable students to learn from professional musicians. Most importantly, I want to ensure that more kids are making music and enjoying themselves.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.