PYCH: The Program Worth Starting (pitch!)

May 23, 2012 | Off the Hook Arts

I’m certain that if you’ve followed the early steps of our development that you’ve seen this photo before. It’s a photo of my seven year old daughter, Naomi. Since she began the violin at age three,  we have puzzled through difficult musical problems together. We have struggled with stamina and concentration. We have delved into the complexity of learning new positions, techniques, memorization and finally sight reading chamber music together. But the skills that she has developed through playing an instrument, particularly holding her own part while another plays contrapuntally, has given her a sense of confidence and self-actuality that no classroom teacher of 24 students has achieved. We have discovered together that perseverance and hard work lead her to that golden reward of self-confidence and personal achievement.

She now plays music with her best friend, peers and professional musicians. Although she may not have the same life experience that many she plays with, she still communicates her intentions, leads a phrase musically, and performs with confidence. I’m convinced that her life is dramatically more rich and the process of her thinking more profound by learning at an early age how to play an instrument and use it collaboratively in chamber music.

AppleMarkThis is just the sense of accomplishment that is achieved through PYCH. PYCH: Project Youth and Chamber Music, targets the ebbing presence of creative education in public schools. Studies by Crystal Gibson state children who grow up around music are more intellectually active and have a better chance of graduating high school or college. Through the development of musical skills children gain an awareness of their potential, what discipline can do for them, and are encouraged to value learning and hard work.

I know the success of this type of program and the permanent, life changing impact it has on participating students. In 2008 – 2011, as Director of CHAMPS (Chamber Music in Public Schools) in Austin, Texas, I led effective change in the program: more community minded music education, a focus on underserved schools and an increase in community outreach. We established a Master Class series with visiting artists as well as a collaborative project with the Miro String Quartet’s Graduate String Quartet Program at the University of Texas.  That project is the addition of CHAMPS coaching experience to UT graduate students’ educational curriculum.

Change and feedback was immediate from orchestra directors, students, and parents. A school with 98% underserved Latino and African American population was added. UT graduate quartet students gained hands on teaching experience. For the first time in CHAMPS history, we started the fall semester with an $8500 surplus because of increased community recognition and financial support. PYCH can bring the same success to this community with supportive private donations and grants.

In depth study of chamber music hones skills of observation, persistence, innovation, and self-reflection as musicians, while teaching a greater sense of commitment, responsibility and “people skills” as they work together to learn standard repertoire. The increased self-confidence and leadership skills are reflected not only in the orchestra program but also outside of the classroom. The Fort Collins community could benefit greatly from PYCH: Project Youth and Chamber Music.