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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Commercial Appeal Reports on Memphis Symphony Orchestra's work with Soulsville


Symphony mentoring aids Soulsville students

By David Williams (Contact)Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Memphis Symphony Orchestra's Frank Shaffer plays the timpani. "It's a fancy name for kettle drums," he said with a laugh. The lack of pretension suits the symphony these days.

Not content merely to serenade its core audience with the classics, the MSO is looking for ways to become a more involved citizen of Memphis. That has led to a 10-week mentoring program that brings four to six symphony musicians to the Soulsville Charter School for 90 minutes each Tuesday morning.


And so on this Tuesday morning, there was Shaffer, symphony musician, and Evyette Clark, 13-year-old student and marimba player, connecting over sharp notes and a Stevie Wonder tune called "Overjoyed."


As he talked, she played -- and drew praise.
"That's right?" she said, seeming surprised at how well she'd done.
"You got it, girl," said Shaffer, who also teaches percussion at the University of Memphis. "You're a star."

Soulsville, designated for students who previously attended "high priority" schools on the state's target list, has an enrollment of 180 in grades six through eight. Like the symphony, the school sought a partnership with depth.

"We wanted to do more than just get tickets for some kids to go see the symphony," said school chancellor Cary Booker. "We really wanted to have them develop relationships with members of the symphony, to know some of the members by name and to really get an understanding of what the work is about. "We're trying to help kids develop relationships that are strong and positive and help lay the foundation for their future success," Booker said.

By success, he's not talking about mastering a piece of music. He's talking about going to college. As for music, that's merely a tool.

"They're learning a set of skills that are transferable," Booker said. "The kind of focus and practice and dedication that you need to make this instrument make a noise is transferable to the kind of focus and attention you need in order to get good at language arts, to get good at mathematics, to get good at science."

The symphony can teach the students not just about performing -- musically, academically and in other ways -- as individuals, he said, but as part of a group.

"It's not simply, 'I'm going to make my instrument make a noise,'" Booker said. "But, 'I'm going to make it make a noise that fits with all the other noises -- to create a piece.' "

Clark talks about the program in that larger sense. Sure, she's improving her marimba skills, but ...

"It gives me more opportunity to know the world," she said. "It's been a very good program."
Shaffer, in his role as teacher, seems to be getting an education, too.

"There are all sorts of teaching challenges that I haven't dealt with before," he said. "A lot of times, there are issues where the students are working so hard in other subjects, sometimes they have trouble wanting to do academically related things in music.
"So finding a way to kind of turn them on has been a very good experience for me to figure out."

1 comments:

violin player said...

Great stuff! Sounds like a wonderful partnership for both organizations.