Thursday, May 24 , 2018, 1:20 am | Overcast 59º

 
 
 
 
Advice

Santa Maria Philharmonic Society Looks to Future with Youth Music Programs

Connecting children to professional performances, music vans and educational opportunities all support students’ development

The Santa Maria Philharmonic Society began its music-in-the-schools program with the help of a donated van and instruments borrowed or rented from the Santa Barbara Symphony. Fifteen years later, volunteers are just as enthusiastic about working with the third-graders getting their first exposure to making their own music. “I didn’t seek after it, but I realized it was so much fun I just kept doing it,” volunteer Diane Borad-Mirken says. Click to view larger
The Santa Maria Philharmonic Society began its music-in-the-schools program with the help of a donated van and instruments borrowed or rented from the Santa Barbara Symphony. Fifteen years later, volunteers are just as enthusiastic about working with the third-graders getting their first exposure to making their own music. “I didn’t seek after it, but I realized it was so much fun I just kept doing it,” volunteer Diane Borad-Mirken says. (Santa Maria Philharmonic Society photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: Second in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation. Click here for the first article.]

As the strings and woodwinds tuned and warmed up, while ballerinas tied their ribbons and stretched, more than 2,000 northern Santa Barbara County elementary school students filed into seats at Ethel Pope Auditorium earlier this month for the Santa Maria Philharmonic Society’s performance of Pytor Tchaikovsky’s classic, The Nutcracker.

The performances marked a historic expansion of the nonprofit organization’s music education program to place professional dancers on stage with the society’s professional musicians.

“This year, Gina Oh, our youth programs coordinator, and Brian Alhadeff, a wonderful, young conductor who has really reinvigorated the San Luis Opera (Opera San Luis Obispo), have brought together musicians and dancers for the students,” said Lynne Garrett, society board member and principal violinist.

“He’s a wonderful musician who knows how to bring things together in a big way.”

Since 1925, the Santa Maria Philharmonic Society has evolved from an amateur symphony to today’s team of professional musicians who provide seasons of classical symphonic music, baroque quartets, seasonal concerts, intimate performances and classical offerings. The society is entirely volunteer driven.

“We know that if we don’t get music back into the schools in a real way, we wouldn’t have an audience in the future,” Garrett told Noozhawk. “We wouldn’t have musicians in the future.”

Oh, currently executive vice president of the society’s board of directors, volunteers countless hours to bring professional performances to North County schools throughout the year.

“When I was a child, I took music lessons in school, and it was a great way to relieve stress for me,” said Oh, an Arroyo Grande resident. “It’s a method of stress relief for so many children, and it provides happy moments instead of just playing video games and playing on chat lists.

“Picking up an instrument is much more beneficial for their lives.”

The Santa Maria Philharmonic Society began its music-in-the-schools program with a van-load of instruments that volunteers toured through third-grade classes. The instruments were typically rented from the Santa Barbara Symphony, which donated the use of the instruments during the Santa Maria group’s leanest years.

Today, with support from Toyota & Scion of Santa Maria and grants from Dignity Health, the Santa Maria Arts Council and additional sponsorships, the society dedicates six weeks of daily programs led by long-time volunteer Diane Borad-Mirken.

With the help of the music van program, third-graders learn about strings, brass, woodwind and percussion instruments, as well as the ins and outs of musical performances. Click to view larger
With the help of the music van program, third-graders learn about strings, brass, woodwind and percussion instruments, as well as the ins and outs of musical performances. (Santa Maria Philharmonic Society photo)

“I love children and I love music,” said Borad-Mirken, a retired Santa Maria-Bonita School District teacher who began volunteering on the van 15 years ago. “To expose them to different things, like music, is so important.

“I didn’t seek after it, but I realized it was so much fun I just kept doing it. I feel like they really need me, and I love being in front of people.”

With partner volunteers, like regular Evy Dykema, the music van introduces third-graders to strings, brass, woodwind and percussion instruments. Students hear, touch and often have opportunities to play the instruments.

“For those students who really want to learn an instrument, Central Coast Music Academy teachers offer programs for any students in after-school lessons around town,” Oh said.

“If you really can’t afford it, we can help find scholarships and sponsors for you to learn with top-notch group music lessons after school.”

The van also serves as a segue between Santa Maria-Bonita’s existing third- and fourth-grade music education programs.

“Third grade is the gate keeper to our music program,” explained Niccole Wiseman, coordinator of curriculum and instruction for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. “The students go through a 15-week program in which they learn about notes, music, musical families.

The Santa Maria Philharmonic Society’s music-in-the-schools program van is donated by Toyota & Scion of Santa Maria and is supported by grants from Dignity Health, the Santa Maria Arts Council and other sponsors.
The Santa Maria Philharmonic Society’s music-in-the-schools program van is donated by Toyota & Scion of Santa Maria and is supported by grants from Dignity Health, the Santa Maria Arts Council and other sponsors. (Santa Maria Philharmonic Society photo)

“The music van provides an exciting time for the kids to hear these instruments, see them, find out what they might want to play in fourth grade when they have the option of joining the band.”

Wiseman said the district offers band at all of its campuses through the coordinated efforts of eight music teachers. Fourth- through sixth-grade students have the option to take part in the pull-out program two times per week.

“The symphony has been really wonderful,” Wiseman said. “The students are getting to see quite the range of music and fine arts.”

The society continues its music-in-the-schools program with performances of Peter & the Wolf for fourth-grade students. Since 2000, that program, complete with transportation for students, has been funded by the Wood-Claeyssens Foundation of Santa Barbara.

Oh applied for more than 50 grants this year to help support and expand the program.

“I’d tear up whenever we got one,” she said.

After the success of this year’s addition of The Nutcracker for fifth-graders, Oh hopes to offer an opera for sixth-graders.

“Having music in school is important for students’ overall intelligence, growth and development,” she said. “Studies have shown — over and over — that if you pick up an instrument, your other schoolwork also improves.

“Music is the only curriculum that integrates all parts of your brain and crosses over from the left and right hemispheres of your brain.”

Making it happens requires countless hours of volunteer service. Click here to volunteer for the Santa Maria Philharmonic Society’s youth music education program or other programs. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jennifer Best can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

More than 2,000 North County elementary school students were in attendance for the Santa Maria Philharmonic Society’s recent performance of Pytor Tchaikovsky’s classic, The Nutcracker. Click to view larger
More than 2,000 North County elementary school students were in attendance for the Santa Maria Philharmonic Society’s recent performance of Pytor Tchaikovsky’s classic, The Nutcracker. (Santa Maria Philharmonic Society photo)

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