Gunnery Sgt. Jeffrey Frank started taking music lessons 30 years ago when he was in elementary school.
Frank, who is now the small ensemble leader for the highly regarded 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Band at Cherry Point, did a demonstration of his skills as a trumpet player for students at Gurganus Elementary School last week.
He did so not in his official role with the band, but as a parent. He has two children in the school, and music teacher Sue Williams asked him to come out and talk about music to the students.
Music, Frank said, is important for young students to have in their school curriculum.
"For them, it gives them something that they can grasp onto and develop," he said. "Music is emotional so it can strengthen that emotion side. Otherwise, it’s just something fun to do. When you first start and you’re just playing notes, you don’t get it. As it becomes more and more and you can create new feelings, it’s pretty cool."
Williams said the best musicians start at a young age.
"If they want to be truly good they have to start at an early age — the earlier the better, even if they’re just learning to keep a steady beat and learning to match pitches and then as they are learning to read music it ties right into learning to read words, and I tell them that once they learn to read notes then they can put those notes together into measures just like sentences when they are reading and then put them into stories," said Williams. "It will take them to places that they never dreamed of going, just like reading a book about some faraway place."
Jorge Benitez, director of the highly successful band program at Havelock High, sees the results when freshmen walk in his door.
"Children at the elementary and early middle school ages are so much successful with learning musical instruments," he said. "The brain is ready to grow and learn. The more stimulus the brain gets, the more connections it makes and the stronger it gets."
And, he said, the news gets better.
"There is a strong connection nationwide between strong music programs and high achieving schools," he said. "It’s not that smart kids do music but rather music makes kids smarter. There is just something about
music that can have transforming effects."
Melissa Orr directs the band at Tucker Creek Middle School.
"Children hit certain milestones in their development that make them much more receptive to learning new skills than adults," she said. "If you put a clarinet in the hand of a child that is still fine-tuning their motor skills and cognition, then you’ll find much greater success than you would in an adult that has never been exposed to music. A child can easily be convinced that something as complex as playing a musical instrument is simple and common place if introduced at the right time in their development and taught progressively. If not exposed early enough, a person may develop into an adult that has no interest in the arts and has little desire or initiative for that matter to take the steps needed to learn to play an instrument."
She described music as a global language.
"It speaks to people from all backgrounds and is a vehicle for communicating when words aren’t enough," she said. "Music gives students the opportunity to be creative and to belong to something much bigger than themselves. Students are constantly collaborating in the music classrooms and have to work as part of a team. Music teaches students discipline and the rewards of hard work."
The area music teachers said learning music early can produce habits that help students with other learning.
"Having the students involved in music early in their education benefits more than just being able to read music, but helps create a sense of commitment at an early age, due to the responsibility of having to know their parts and practice," said Mark Lorek, band teacher at Havelock Middle School. "It also gets students involved in the school, and helps create many friendships that could last all the way through high school."
At Gurganus, Williams has students learn to play recorders and read music in fourth and fifth grade.
"I really want them to be ready to go to the middle school to participate there. That’s really when they learn a lot about music reading," she said. "They learn articulation. They learn tonguing. They learn working together when they are in a group. They learn following a conductor. They learn looking at a piece of music and finding the patterns in it and then being able to play it or sight read it.
"Sixth grade is the beginning grade for band, and the way schedules are set up, if you’re in sixth grade, you decide to be in band or not."
Even if a student doesn’t plan on playing an instrument in band, it is still beneficial for all students to be exposed to music, Williams said.
"Music just pulls everything together," she said. "We study social studies, math, language arts, you name it across the board. I’m going to be doing a sound unit with my second-graders. They study sound in science, so we’re going to explore the instrument sounds. It’s the glue that holds everything together, and like I tell my fifth-graders, if they can read music, it is going to add so much wonder to their lives."