By Jennifer Sadler and Brooke Chavdar
Columbus is a city with a great passion for music. Columbus supports a long history of world-class artists, as well as a vibrant and diverse music scene that thrives today. For many, music offers an opportunity to explore common ground with others. Music, which often transcends language barriers, can be a vehicle to reach people of all ages, to teach about other cultures, to gain insight about the history and politics of the time the music was created and can even help us gain insight into our own relationships. Many are aware of the importance of music in education and in every day experiences. Political and community advocates work tirelessly alongside parents and educators in the fight to keep music education in our schools. Collaborations are happening every day with arts groups that help to bring music to students, neighborhoods, community organizations and into the everyday lives of Columbus citizens.
Local arts organizations such as Jazz Arts Group dedicate a large part of their programming to music education and play a key role in augmenting and enriching school cirriculum with their Jazz In Schools program, Jazz Academy classes and the PBJ & Jazz series with interactive concerts designed to introduce jazz to young kids and their families. Other organizations focus on out-of-school education. Columbus Children’s Choir, one of the best choirs of its kind in the nation, offers an excellent opportunity for young people in central Ohio who want to pursue music at a higher level than what might otherwise be available in their school.
For those seeking a less formal exploration of music there are many opportunities available—for all ages and skill levels. Following is a small peek into what a couple of local organizations have to offer. The Harmony Project, founded here in Columbus, has a unique twist with their programming which requires all participants to give back by volunteering for various community projects. And CityMusic’s M.O.R.E. programs give school kids the chance to interact with internationally touring musicians who have a stopover in Columbus as well as local musicians and educators.
Sing. Serve. Share. This is the motto of the Harmony Project, a local choir composed of individuals from all walks of life. Established two years ago by David Brown, the project’s mission is to build community through the performing arts.
The Harmony Project is designed to benefit the community in numerous ways. First, it provides an opportunity for people who may not be professional musicians or experienced singers to work toward performing at an artistic level they had never imagined. Music becomes more accessible to the choir participants, their families, friends and co-workers, as well as the wider concert audiences. The choir models how a very diverse group—individuals of different racial backgrounds, religions, ages, political affiliations, sexual orientations—can bond through artistic collaboration as well as the experience of community service and philanthropy and the service provided by the choir adds directly to the health and strength of the Columbus community.
Over the years, Brown has established several initiatives similar to the Harmony Project in other major cities across the nation, including New York and San Francisco. But when he came to Columbus three years ago, he found there were no organizations or projects that integrate diversity, philanthropy, and music. Thus, the Harmony Project was born.
The rules are simple—in order to perform in the choir, members must participate in volunteer/community service activities. Singing experience is not required; the project accepts people of all skill levels and works with them to improve ability.
Musical styles tackled by the choir range from pop and blues to jazz and gospel. Most choir members have no background or experience singing, but they all share a passion for music, practicing two hours every Monday night at the Bluestone (formerly the BoMA).
The choir performs several times a year for the community to sold-out crowds, most recently this past December at the Lincoln Theatre. All concert proceeds go to philanthropies in the area that serve the underprivileged and disadvantaged. Past project donations include giving 3,000 toys and gifts to foster children served by Franklin County Children’s Services and raising $10,000 for Toys for Tots.
This season, Brown is working on developing a music program for homeless individuals transitioning into the community with the goal of helping de-stigmatize what it means to be homeless.
“These are people just like us,” says Brown. “Some have the same dreams for music and performing that we do.” The choir’s next performance is scheduled for Thursday, May 12 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Visit www.harmonyproject.com to join the project, volunteer or make a donation.
Since 1991, CityMusic has presented school, after-school and summer programs in the musical arts for inner-city youth. The program, called Musical Opportunities Reward Everyone, or M.O.R.E., is a collaborative effort with the Godman Guild (a United Way Agency) primarily serving children who attend Weinland Park Elementary School, 5th Avenue Elementary School and Columbus Arts Impact Middle School.
Through after-school workshops and summer music sessions at Camp Mary Orton, children learn firsthand about teamwork and disciplined practice. The workshops are often multi-disciplinary, incorporating dance, storytelling, music theory, singing and instrumental performance. They are conducted in a wide range of music genres, providing the opportunity for young people to explore cultural, historical and social issues through music.
CityMusic brings in national and international touring groups through its World Music and Chamber Music series as well as local musicians and educators to local elementary and middle schools to conduct workshops and presentations that are in line with the schools’ curriculums. Music programs are presented to anywhere from 40 to 350 students at a time, depending on the project and the group performing.
Last year, CityMusic brought Bradley Sowash, an acclaimed local jazz musician and educator, to Northland High School for an improv program. They also brought traditional Irish music group, Téada, to Arts Impact Middle School (AIMS) in Fort Hayes to talk about instruments, music and Irish step dancing.
Erin Phelan, executive director of CityMusic, was present at one of the program’s workshops at Northwood High School featuring chamber music ensemble, Prima Trio. What was supposed to be an opportunity for the students to be exposed to the music and ask questions about it, surprisingly morphed into something much different after the group performed. Instead of asking the expected questions, students were much more interested in how the Trio decided to go into chamber music as a profession and what it was like to be a professional touring musician.
“I’ve studied music and have a Master’s degree in performance and I was so impressed by the students’ questions,” says Phelan.
For Phelan, one of the most rewarding experiences she’s had with the program is in seeing how students in Bradley Sowash’s improv program at Northland High School reacted so creatively to the workshop.
“It was really fun to see the kids be exposed to and learn the basics of improvisational jazz. When you take the music out of it, through the idea of improv, you’re teaching the kids to think for themselves, which gives them a sense of freedom.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of CityMusic's M.O.R.E. program is that it provides positive, creative extra-curricular options for children who for the most part have few comparable opportunities. All M.O.R.E. programs are offered at no cost to the children served.
For more information about opportunities available locally for music eduation—whether in school, out of school or for any age, please check out the links below.
Artists-in-Schools, one of GCAC's longest running programs and has served hundreds of thousands of people of all ages over the last 30 years
ARTS CLASSifieds, a comprehensive online directory of arts education programs offered throughout Franklin County
Columbus Symphony Orchestra, education and outreach
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, music education and performance series
Photo: Eric "The Fish" Paton teaches a class in world percussion. Courtesy of CityMusic.