Murch kids are covering for us all week! This article is from the June edition of their student newspaper, The Blue and Gold. We have permission to reproduce it here.
Just Ahead: Music for All Kids in A Major Key
by Francesca Ban-Goodrich, Paulina Stewart-Aday and Rachel Kolko
Murch has hired an experienced music teacher who promises to lead a greatly expanded program when school resumes in September. Eugene Branch Jr., who has been teaching music at H.D. Cooke Elementary School for several years, will replace Catherine Pruett.
Mr. Branch didn’t miss a beat when he heard that Murch was looking for a new music teacher. “I contacted Mr. C (Principal Chris Cebrzynski) immediately,” he said.
He said that he wants to add more instruments and vocal work to the Murch program, organize a band, and take kids to the Kennedy Center to participate in the annual school district music festival.
“My goal is to set up a music program where all students in each grade level perform on stage (and) outside of school,” he said.
Mr. C said he had no difficulty in choosing Mr. Branch because “he came to me highly recommended.”
Mr. Branch, 46, a musician since childhood, has been a singer and an instrumentalist on piano, percussion and woodwinds. He has two master’s degrees in music education. When he arrives at Murch, he will enter his 25th year as a music teacher in public and private schools.
His ambitious program for Murch would cost money, which Mr. C said is not in the school’s budget. But he said the program “will likely happen” with help from the Home and School Association. He noted that Mr. Branch “has gotten people to donate instruments.”
Mr. Branch said he will be “looking for major support from the students, parents, and the Murch school community. We can together bring a wonderful program (to Murch) that allows everyone to learn and take part.”
Mr. Branch’s proposed music program should address the complaints of many older students. Younger kids said they enjoyed Ms. Pruett’s classes, but many older ones did not.
First-grader Carlson (Charlie) Bergthold said. “We learn fun holiday songs on holidays and we make fun videos of them.” (Videos of Ms. Pruett’s classes at all levels are on the Murch website).
Kindergartener Umar Tahir said he learned to play maracas and thought it was really fun.
But many older students complained that the music program – especially the songs – are too childish and repetitious. For example, 4th-graders were
required to sing such lyrics as these:
“Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back.
They jumped so high, high, high
They reached the sky,sky,sky
And they didn’t come back back,back
‘Til the 4th of July, ly, ly!”
“I learn a lot of songs I don’t like,” said Ana Reynolds-Collette, a 5th grader. Some of the older kids asked Ms. Pruett to teach more mature songs. But in a February, 2016, post on the Murch website titled, “Entertainment vs. Education,” Ms. Pruett wrote:
“I get lots of questions like why can’t we sing (Adele, Beatles, etc.) songs in music class? The answer is easy! Those songs are great for entertaining but not for kids learning to become musicians.”
In an interview, she added: “The Beatles didn’t write any songs to educate children. They aren’t teachers.”
Fourth grader Ian Wofford said, “(We) mostly learn the notes ti-ti-ta-ta. (We) have no clue about the scale.” But the school district curriculum recommends that kids learn the musical scale in the 4th grade.
Mr. Branch, though, may start even earlier. “The best time to teach students how to read music is around the 2nd and 3rd grades,” he wrote in an email to The Blue and Gold.
“I will begin to teach students in grades 1-5 at Murch about the recorder, which will bring in the beginning stages of reading and sight-reading music.”
Music is considered important in elementary school because it helps kids relax, express themselves, show their talents, and realize the importance of music and musicians in our history. Unlike Murch, some public elementary schools in Washington offer more challenging music programs.
At John Eaton Elementary School, for example, 4th and 5th grade students have a choice of two music teachers, said Mia Gerson, a 4th grader at Eaton. One teaches voice and the other teaches instruments and forms a band, she said. Together, they organize winter and spring concerts.