1-2-3-4: Music Education and Its Role in Huntsville’s Music Ecosystem

The numbers don’t lie – kids enrolled in music education programs generally have higher levels of academic achievement than those who don’t.

Whether learning the piano, studio engineering, or concert production, the growth of Huntsville’s music ecosystem will largely depend on having a steady pipeline of talent on stage and in behind the scenes. That’s why Huntsville Music Officer Matt Mandrella is passionate about promoting music programs, instructors and students.

During Huntsville Music Month, the city hosted successful examples of music education, including Huntsville Community Drumline, Sierra Hammond of Huntsville Opera, Jemison High School Band, and 9-year-old violin student Laila Willis.

The Huntsville Music Office also co-sponsored a musical instrument drive with Huntsville City Schools, Maitland Arts Initiative and Microwave Dave Music Education Foundation.

“If we are serious about growing a world-class music ecosystem in Huntsville, we will always need to focus on growing our music education programs and ensuring people have access to them,” Mandrella said. “We already have some truly amazing programs both public and private, and it’s critical that our community find a way to continue to support our instructors and students. It’s great to see talented young people succeed, but it’s less likely to happen without all of our support.

The Huntsville Community Drumline performs in front of City Hall on September 8, 2022.

positive proof

Statistics from the Children’s Music Workshop and the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation indicate that children who study music have higher vocabulary and excel in math and spelling. Evidence also suggests that children who study music have higher school attendance and graduation rates.

A woman raises her arms to lead a group of young students playing the violin.

Music teacher Rebecca Wortham says music education builds character and teaches the value of teamwork because there are no superstars within a band – it requires all parts to be played.

These facts come as no surprise to Rebecca Wortham or Mario Maitland. Wortham, a choir and orchestra teacher for Huntsville City Schools, began teaching high school sophomore music in the late 1980s.

Wortham, who took private piano, violin, flute and cello lessons as a child, explained that music education fills in the blanks, forms connections in the brain and helps with pattern recognition, memory and spatial reasoning. More importantly, she says, it helps build character and teaches the value of teamwork as there are no superstars within a group – it requires all parts to be played.

“(Students) realize that music is a great unifier – a language spoken by everyone,” she said. “I have seen students offer hugs and handkerchiefs to others when overcome with emotion while performing meaningful or sentimental pieces for them. It’s beautiful to witness as a teacher and fellow musician.

Sierra Hammond of Opera Huntsville performs the "Star-Spangled Banner" September 8, 2022, before the start of a city council meeting.  The singer is dressed in black.  There are three people standing in the background watching her perform.

Sierra Hammond of Opera Huntsville performs the “star-spangled banner” on September 8, 2022, before the start of a city council meeting.

Changing Lives

Like Wortham, Maitland has seen incredible transformations in young people taking music lessons. Years ago he was one of them. Maitland, CEO and founder of the Maitland Conservatory and member of the Huntsville Music Board, began taking music lessons at Andrea Clarke’s School of Music when he was 12 years old. At that time, he had low self-confidence because there were things he didn’t understand or couldn’t do well.

“When I started learning music and I got really good at it, it gave me confidence that there was something I was good at, something no one else could take away from me. “, did he declare. “It felt good to be celebrated by my peers and adults for my talent.”

Mario Maitland, CEO and founder of the Maitland Conservatory and member of the Huntsville Music Board, began taking music lessons at Andrea Clarke's School of Music when he was 12 years old.

Mario Maitland, CEO and founder of the Maitland Conservatory and member of the Huntsville Music Board, began taking music lessons at Andrea Clarke’s School of Music when he was 12 years old.

Reflecting on her students over the years, Maitland recalled a former piano student who started at Maitland Conservatory at age 9, shy and unconfident in her abilities. As he went through the program and learned new skills, the boy’s confidence soared.

“At 13, he became the music minister of his church,” Maitland said of the student. “Shortly after, he decided to major in piano at university. He now teaches at the Maitland Conservatory and is working on his own album.

For Wortham, at least one success story hits close to home. Her youngest son was born with global cerebral atrophy, which means he is missing part of his brain. Despite this challenge, he plays the clarinet and expresses himself through music when he can’t find the words.

Last year, he was recognized for a musical composition submitted to a national competition. Wortham said the award made his son feel “as smart as kids who don’t have special needs”.

Nine-year-old violinist Laila Willis smiles as she finishes her performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" on the violin during a city council meeting on September 22, 2022. She wears glasses and a red dress and holds a violin bow.

Nine-year-old violinist Laila Willis smiles as she finishes her performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on violin during a city council meeting on September 22, 2022.

Developing the ecosystem

Maitland and Wortham said they share the city’s belief that a successful music ecosystem depends on successful music education programs. Wortham pointed out that while Huntsville is known for its space and science programs, Albert Einstein played the violin and space pioneer John Glen grew up in a musical family.

“Music, science and math are closely linked,” she said. “Furthermore, a thriving community is one in which multiple interests are represented. I am grateful to local music giants, like Microwave Dave, whose foundation gives back to local public schools.

Maitland said he realizes that some parents and guardians cannot afford a music education. This is why the Maitland Conservatory has developed the Maitland Arts Initiative, which offers free scholarships to students. This has also led to the creation of satellite locations to facilitate parent and student participation.

When asked what he would say to a parent or guardian about the value of music education, Maitland simply replied that it can yield exponential academic and emotional results.

“In my case, the exposure to a music program in fourth grade made it what I do for a living,” he said. “Now I have had the ability to reach thousands of people and create a place where others can do the same.”

To learn more about Huntsville’s music education programs, visit HuntsvilleMusic.com/Education.

The Drum Major of the Mae C. Jemison High School Band raises her arms to lead the band in front of City Hall on September 22, 2022. She is wearing a white T-shirt that says "Respect the Lair." There are musicians in the background with raised instruments.  They wear blue T-shirts.

The Drum Major of the Mae C. Jemison High School Band raises his arms to lead the band in front of City Hall on September 22, 2022.

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