An innovative elementary school music program sponsored by the Santa Cruz County Symphony is nearing the end of its first year and heading for a second amid praise from teachers and students.
"It is a fabulous program and I have every anticipation it will continue to grow," said Mary Ann James, assistant superintendent of education services for the Santa Cruz County Office of Education.
The project, known as the Brummitt-Taylor Music Listening Program, provides up to five minutes of music by composers such as Beethoven and Mozart every day for children in first through fifth grades.
Teachers are given background information to use in talking to the children about the composers and the music and eliciting the children's thoughts about the pieces.
The symphony launched the program in four of the county's 35 elementary schools this year, including two in Watsonville and two in Santa Cruz.
It hopes to double the number of schools using it each year, according to symphony spokesman Benjamin Short.
"We think it's going really well. It was something we could do to have music in the classrooms on a regular basis," Short said.
Kay Mitchell, a first grade teacher at DeLaveaga Elementary School in Santa Cruz, called the program "a beautiful way to start every day" and said, "It is part of our daily routine."
At Alianza Charter School in Watsonville, fourth-grade teacher Mary Jane Hills said, "The most valuable aspect of the music listening program is a consistent, daily exposure to music and the arts."
The listening program supplements the symphony's existing project of providing free concerts each year for 4,000 fourth- and fifth-graders together with school visits by orchestra players.
In the listening program, children hear the same short piece or excerpt every day for a week. The composers range from the Renaissance era to the 20th century.
In materials geared for each grade level, teachers introduce the composer on the first day and suggest different things to listen for, such as patterns, phrases or particular instruments, on the following days.
The program was first published in 1996 and is now used in a number of schools around the country.
"They really are starting to hear some of the subtle things," James said of students in the Santa Cruz County pilot program.
She said the program appears to spill over to aiding reading skills by sharpening children's ability to identify and distinguish sounds.
The program is usually used either at the beginning of the day or at the end of recess.
James said that at two schools she observed, the music has a way of calming the pupils after recess.
"Students just come in and mellow into the sound," she said.
In comments made available by the symphony, third-graders at DeLaveaga said they liked the program.
"I takes me to different places and gives me time to relax," said one student.
Another child said, "The music seems real," and a third said, "It's fun to imagine."
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