Music Workshop helps schools with budget-challenged programs

Severe budget cuts and the resulting reductions in music programs are not much to sing about, but the instructional void in the Beaverton School District has inspired a group of volunteers to transpose sour notes into something more harmonious.

Conceived by Amy Richter, the mother of two elementary students in the district, the nonprofit Music Workshop organization is designed to provide free supplemental music programs to public elementary schools in the Beaverton and Portland school districts.

The program, which is staffed by parents and volunteer instructional assistants, will provide one 40-minute workshop session per month during the school TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Zoe Richter, a third-grader at Raleigh Hills K-8 School, is among the students looking forward to the Music Workshop program, which starts in six Beaverton schools on Feb. 15.

The workshop will launch its preview series — focused on the history of jazz — on Friday, Feb. 15, in 12 area schools, including six in the Beaverton district.

Richter, a vocalist and pianist who came up through Beaverton public schools, modeled the workshop after a long-running art literacy-oriented program that several Portland schools adopted.

“We wanted to develop a program that was a turnkey, something any school could put in anywhere, with little effort and resources,” she said. “Once it’s developed, we can really reach a lot of schools.”

Dynamic approach

Helmed by a volunteer “maestro,” the workshops will allow students to learn lessons of music appreciation and study, including a focus on styles, cultures, genres, instruments and musicians. Students will participate in discussions and activities geared toward promoting personal, academic, artistic and behavioral growth.

Each topic or genre will include a video encapsulating history and background to stimulate a question-and-answer session. Former Raleigh Hills resident Michael Ingram developed the inaugural video, which traces the evolution of jazz from its ragtag origins in the streets of New Orleans to the complex, sophisticated cultural force it is today. Iris Harrison, a familiar Portland-area voice from KGON radio (92.3 FM), provides the narration.

“We hope it will inspire them,” Richter said, “so that when they see Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet, they’ll be more inspired to pick up an instrument and practice really hard. And of course, we emphasize how hard you have to practice to get to that level.”

Program Facilitator Amy Hall said the videos are likely to grab students’ attention.

“I took choir all the way through school, but I don’t recall getting this kind of information,” she said.

The jazz video tested well with her 6-year-old daughter.

“She liked it. When we asked questions, she knew a lot more about it than we thought she would. She was leaning forward, getting into the sounds,” Hall said.

Any volunteer or staff member, regardless of background knowledge, can facilitate a workshop session. Workshop leaders invite local musicians, music organizations and educators to collaborate and partner with the program.

“The goal is getting students to really think about the genre and how applicable it is in their world,” Richter said.

Trading notes

Doug Bundy, who served as Aloha High School’s band and orchestra director for 13 years before taking on a role as technology teacher at Raleigh Hills K-8 School, said he gladly accepted Richter’s invitation to join the Music Workshop’s five-member board of directors.

“Amy has worked tirelessly with other community members, parents and musicians to create a unique learning opportunity to enrich the lives of students in our district, as well as other districts,” he said, emphasizing the workshop is not intended to compensate for the “very severe budget cuts” in the district. “We need to be developing the creative capacity of our students in every possible way.”

Richter stressed the workshop’s goal is to enhance, rather than replace, music programs cut in the Beaverton district’s 2012-13 budget.

“I don’t feel this competes directly with a full-time music program. Therefore I would hate to think the district would think this could fill that spot,” she said. “We’re hoping schools will bring it on to help enhance their programs, and the district sees the need for full-time music program as well as the workshop to enhance students’ learning.”

With the history of rock ‘n’ roll set to follow the workshop’s jazz installment, Richter and the program’s volunteers are getting as excited as schoolchildren.

“We’re all being educated through this process,” she confessed, “which is so great.”

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