What do Kesha and Bill Clinton have in common? They were both saxophone players in their high school marching bands. Who else was a “band geek?” How about Aretha Franklin, Norah Jones, Gwen Stefani, Emeril Lagasse, Tina Fey, Julia Roberts and even our hometown hero, Samuel L. Jackson (former trumpet player at Riverside High School).
As a non-musician, I was shocked to see how many accomplished actors and celebrities came from a background in their high school marching band. Just Google it. Many of you were a part of this band family and would not be surprised at all about how many of our well-known scientists and politicians also marched on the football field at halftime. It was a club that I wasn’t a part of, but one that I now see enriches students and provides lessons about self-discipline, friendship and perseverance, far beyond what kids learn in a traditional classroom.
In addition to the social/emotional benefits of music education, the data is clear. Exposure to music increases a child’s ability to learn. Scientific research shows that music training strengthens attention and memory skills, improves the ability to hear a teacher in a noisy classroom, and strengthens the precision of neural responses to speech. In other words, kids better understand what they are learning when they also have access to music classes.
But Thomas Faulkner, 2015 graduate of Signal Mountain Middle/High School (SMMHS), loved the music program for a different reason. “Studying music in high school was important not only because I gained skills as a musician that I can build on for the rest of my career, but also because of the community that music surrounded me with,” he said.
Thomas graduated as center snare of the Signal Corps Marching Band and received a music scholarship from Vanderbilt University, where he currently attends the Blair School of Music as a percussion performance major. “Having to collaborate with my peers regularly (sometimes for hours a day) in order to create something greater than myself taught me how to cherish close relationships, and how to put up with people I didn’t necessarily get along with. I say it often: music school is kind of like life school.”
Thomas now studies with percussionist Ji Hye Jung (praised as “spectacular” by the Los Angeles Times) and recently performed in Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass,” a monstrosity that involved over 150 singers and instrumentalists, according to Mr. Faulkner. “Rehearsing with that many people was insane and one of the best experiences of my musical life,” he added.
Music has consistently been proven to enrich a student’s education, but our local schools need help to make this possible. An underfunded county school system means dollars are stretched for all our public schools, and unfortunately the arts are often the first programs to see the cuts. At SMMHS, music programs and fine arts currently share approximately $300 annually from the Block Grant that is given by the Hamilton County Department of Education. In other words, nearly 1,300 kids are sharing $300 for choir, orchestra, band and fine arts. All other funds must be raised by the community.
If you support music education, please join us on April 29 for the fifth annual Swing Swang Swung, hosted by the SMMHS Music Boosters. This fun night of dinner and 1940s music and dancing will raise money that will go directly into the music program. Swing Swang Swung is an evening with performances from our very own Signal Mountain High School Jazz Band and Sweet Georgia Sound. The event starts at 7 p.m. at Signal Mountain Presbyterian’s Great Hall and includes dinner and dessert prepared by Gipsy Gourmet as well as jazz music, dancing and a silent auction. Reservations are $25 per seat.
This year, Music Director Shelby Walker hopes to use the proceeds to purchase French horns, mellophones and a synthesizer. The prices for these instruments range from $2,000 to $4,000 each.
For reservations or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit the band's website. Hope to see you there and keep supporting the arts!