Music is a big part of the Carlisle School education

"I am amazed at the miracle of the fine arts program," said Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson as she introduced the fine arts and music teachers to the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) on January 7. The music department staff — Thomas O'Halloran, Angela DiPace and Megan Fitzharris — provided highlights, reinforced by a video by art teacher Courtney Graham-Hadley, of a lively and impressive instructional program for all students of grades K-8.

Music teacher and band leader Tom O'Halloran introduced the accomplishments and program of the music curriculum this year. In the fall the entire school participated in a September 11 memorial service. Over 250 CCHS students in four bands and five choirs gave two wonderful concerts to the Carlisle Public School and community before Christmas. Beethoven (a.k.a. professional performer Dennis Kobray) visited two assemblies and individual classes in grades 2-6. The musical production, Guys and Dolls, junior has been chosen for the seventh-grade play to be performed March 27-30.

He went on to say twenty-two seventh- and eighth-grade musicians from the chorus and band will audition for the New England junior district honors ensembles January 18. The senior band will also participate in the state MICCA (Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors' Association) music festival for the eighteenth straight year and has accepted an invitation for a workshop with the music faculty at MIT with a subsequent concert at Kresge Auditorium.

O'Halloran continued that the music department offers as many students as possible the opportunity "to participate actively in the 'meaningful' music activities and performances which will help to develop them into a society of life-long learners and discriminating arts consumers." He concluded saying, "I feel really good that one-half the student body in grades 4-8 are performing on instruments in a number of large ensembles." This means there is a beginning band (fourth grade), fifth-grade band, junior band, senior band and jazz band. O'Halloran finished by saying, "It is very gratifying to see how many Carlisle students continue with both choral and instrumental music in the high school."

Grades K-3 music teacher Angela DiPace who has a masters degree in music from the University of Massachusetts informed the school committee that the general music program in the younger grades has expanded to twice a week and the preschool has music once a week. She is the creator of the Muse Newsletter which has grown from parents' desire to support the music program at home.

In the classroom she has the students study Native American dance and music. Not only do they find instruments of sticks and stones in the great outdoors but they also work collaboratively with the physical education department to emphasize rhythms, beats and body movement. She has the children engaged in clapping exercises. Musical learning is built upon the basics and generally the children can sing in tune and begin to read in music.

Music teacher Megan Fitzharris, whose personal goals include a masters degree in music education and doctorate in conducting, generally works with the upper grades. The choral program has grown to have an enrollment of 225 students and the middle school choral program now includes three choirs: the middle school choir, the advanced choir and the show choir. All the groups are singing in at least two parts, some four. Historically in grade 5 the students learn about world music from other cultures and other countries such as Africa. In grade six the focus is more on the history.

Chair of the Carlisle School Committee Suzanne Whitney Smith commented that the program is, "very exciting. A lot of growth and energy is exhibited in the programs" Fox Melanson said, "It is now cool to be in the band. That was not always the situation."

When CSC member Nicole Burkel asked how the school is able to rationalize that music be included in a school curriculum during the time of an educational budget crises? Fox-Melanson answered that the community expects a music program. "A well educated human being has had exposure to music and arts. The students benefit from a well rounded program. They are engaged rather than herded into a supervised study hall." School committee members agreed, pointing out that research supports that students do better academically when they are engaged in non academic efforts.