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Virginia Currents: Students, Teachers Join Bobby McFerrin in Advocating for Music Education

March is Music in Our Schools Month and events are taking place across the state. In Northern Virginia, a music educator who has been inspiring students for decades helped lead one of them to a unique and memorable experience. For Virginia Currents, Catherine Komp has more.

Learn More: See a video of Alexandria City Schools Honors Chorus and find out more about Music in Our Schools Month and the Teaching and Learning 2014 Conference.

Transcript:
Debra Kay Robinson Lindsay rehearses one more time with her Honors Chorus group before a concert for Music in Our Schools month, a national event to celebrate music and emphasize its importance in school curriculum.

(Students singing)

Parents beam and students eagerly share what they’ve learned from Mrs. Lindsay, an award-winning music educator, author and composer who has taught in Fairfax County public schools for 39 years.

Students: I’ve learned that the people who you see on television who are really good singers, you need to really work hard and you really need to want this if you want to end up like them . . . She’s taught us a lot of things, especially looking at her and also inhaling and exhaling at the right moment of a song . . . Mrs. Lindsay has taught me numerous things but the one I remember the most is just to believe in yourself, not to be afraid just because of what other people think of you, just go for it, go for your dream.

The next morning, Lindsay is rehearsing again. This time, it’s with 4th graders at Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy.  They’re polishing up songs on Orff instruments: xylophones, metallophones and glockenspiels specifically designed for teaching young people.

(Students playing Orff instruments)

Although the arts are often targeted in school budget cuts, advocates like Lindsay point out that music instruction helps brain development and overall student achievement.

Debra Lindsay: We teach them experience, we work with them on writing, about what music is, understanding terminology, learning how to write about music, comparing and contrasting, learning how science and sound are related. It’s just not music, it is learning all around.

Lindsay invited her students to help give a training session at the Teaching and Learning 2014 conference in Washington, DC. It’s the first time most of them are performing publicly and while some admit they’re nervous, the performance is a hit and helps demonstrate Debra Lindsay’s teaching techniques.

Students singing)

Afterward, students laugh and smile as they pose for photos. But for one of them, the day’s excitement is not over.

Bobby McFerrin: One of the best teachers I ever had was my third grade teacher, his name was Mr. Carson ...

Musician Bobby McFerrin is headlining the closing plenary at the Teaching and Learning conference.

McFerrin: And he’d march the whole class out to the front lawn and we’d sit under a tree and have a jam session.

(McFerrin singing)

Mixing his improvisational songs with stories about learning music, it doesn’t take long for McFarrin to ask the audience to get a bit closer.

McFerrin: Come sit on the stage if you want to, we can probably pull up some of these chairs and you can sit up here if you want to ...

A couple dozen people move toward the stage; Some bravely join him in song, others ask questions. About 40 minutes in, he hands the mic to the youngest on stage - one of Debra Lindsay’s students:

Nelsa Tiemtore: My name is Nelsa, I’m from Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy, Virginia Public Schools.

McFerrin encourages Nelsa to sing. After some hesitation, she chooses her song.

(Nelsa, McFerrin singing)

Nelsa also asked McFerrin a question: How can music teachers help their students learn different musical instruments? The response leads to another song, one Nelsa had just performed at the music education training session with Debra Lindsay.

(Nelsa, McFerrin singing)

The spotlight would shine on Nelsa a third time. She joined McFerrin and Geneviève DeBose with National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in one final spontaneous circle song.

Nelsa, DeBose, McFerrin singing)

After the performance, Nelsa described how she worked up the courage to sing in front of so many people.

Nelsa Tiemtore: I figured out that this was an opportunity of a lifetime and so if I could do it, it would make me very happy so I could overcome my fear.

Nelsa Tiemtore says she sees more music and art in her future. When she grows up, she’d like to be a doctor, as well as an actor, singer and dancer. Catherine Komp, WCVE News.