Rhode Island Philharmonic focuses on artistic quality, educational quality, access
“I have never seen or played with an orchestra like the RI Philharmonic Orchestra and I know that the experience will never get lost because I will remember it for the rest of my life.”
Projection for the song “I Bought Me a Cat” above orchestra members from the Philharmonic and the Francis J. Varieur Elementary School in Pawtucket. (Photo: Ray Larson, Larson Productions)
“Thank you for letting our class go to such a wonderful concert. I would go back to 5th grade just to go again.”
“Thank you…for the opportunity to be up on stage and perform. I loved how the conductor pointed at us when we needed to start and gave us a thumbs up if we were doing good.”
Elementary school students don’t often have the opportunity to perform in concert with a professional symphony orchestra, but students in Pawtucket elementary schools do just that through the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Music School’s Link Up program.
“We know developmentally that music education needs to start in the elementary schools or sooner,” states David Beauchesne, executive director of the Philharmonic, citing the organization’s three-part FLEX (Foundations in Learning Explorations) program that they have piloted in Pawtucket schools and plan to expand statewide.
FLEX begins with Listen Up, a program through which first through fifth grade students listen to the same piece, five minutes at a time for five days, then think and talk in class about the music. “If they’re listening to and thinking about music, that’s a good start,” David explains.
The second aspect of the FLEX program, Link Up, is designed for third, fourth, and fifth grade students. The 12-unit curriculum, developed by Carnegie Hall, builds music literacy and provides every student with a workbook and a recorder. The culmination of Link Up is the students’ performance with the Philharmonic Orchestra. “They are learning about music, singing music, and playing music,” David shares.
The third component of FLEX, PHIL Up, provides additional offerings to schools participating in Listen Up and Link Up including artist residencies, ensemble workshops, and programs customized to the schools’ needs. “We’re trying to help schools strengthen their music programs as well as infuse music across the curriculum,” David states.
Students from Varieur sing and play on stage with the Philharmonic for the Link Up Education Concerts 2012. (Photo: Ray Larson, Larson Productions)
As the Philharmonic works to expand the FLEX program statewide, Betty Ann Kearney, director of development, explains, “Listen Up and Link Up are less than $25 per child per year. We’re committed to raising funds for the program.”
Acknowledging generous funding primarily from Hasbro, Inc. along with Collette Vacations and Bristol County Savings Bank, David says, “This program provides corporations and other funders an opportunity to support their local schools. School boards often cut out music at the elementary level, but that is like cutting the roots out; eventually the tree dies. We hope to encourage districts to bring music education back into elementary schools that have experienced cuts by helping to provide resources that support those programs and the teachers.” (Long a supporter of the Philharmonic, the Foundation currently is providing general operating support.)
Performing for students is nothing new for the Philharmonic; they began presenting education concerts to elementary school students in 1956. Concerts are performed by the full orchestra at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence.
Students playing their recorders at “The Orchestra Sings” Link Up concert 2012. (Photo: Ray Larson, Larson Productions)
But FLEX actively involves students with the music. “Teachers are looking for things that engage their students in learning. We know that engagement through music has a tremendous impact and we want to get that impact out to more people. We’re looking to develop a deeper relationship with the community,” David states, explaining the Philharmonic puts an equal emphasis on artistic quality/performance, educational quality, and access to both.
Of their commitment to educational quality, Betty Ann summarizes, “We’re in this for the long term. This is something that will pay off in 25 years.”
Elementary school students who are introduced to music through the Philharmonic’s FLEX program some day may even be members of the Philharmonic Orchestra!
Learn more about the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Music School.