HV mom notices wonderful results from child's music education

The family that plays music together stays together

According to West Point music teacher Lois Hicks-Wozniak, joining a band gives kids a sense of belonging and and a place to feel safe. She joined her school band in 6th grade and played the saxophone. From her first hand experience, and now watching her own daughters grow up with band, she has noticed a trend of acknowledging responsibility and self-esteem.

As an adult, she performed with the United States Military Academy Band. A self-described “band geek,” Hicks-Wozniak is not alone in her love for being a part of a band. Her daughters, Zoe and Hannah Titlebaum have both played in the West Point Middle School band for the past four years. Zoe plays the flute. She says she chose it, because she knew she’d enjoy the challenge and the variety of music she could perform with it. Her favorite song to play is “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music.” She loves how audiences smile whenever the band plays a concert.

Hannah chose the French horn because she thinks it looks cool. She also feels that being able to play the horn gives her an edge, when it comes to auditioning for parts, since there aren’t many kids in her school who can play the horn.

Can playing an instrument lead to success?

Band builds friendships

The sisters say band participation has also helped them strengthen friendships. “My best friends are in band. Not only because we have the same interest, but because we spend so much time together,” says Hannah. She adds that the benefits go far beyond just having fun with friends. She says learning to harmonize is an “awesome team experience,” since kids have to listen to one another in order to blend their music. “It’s a better team building exercise than any school counselor can do,” says Hannah.

Being competitive

While the girls are learning team work, they’re also learning to be competitive. Students get to audition for solo performances and for the honor of representing their school in countywide competitions. Hannah successfully tried out for the Orange County Symphony. She’s also been in the All-County Band. “I do like competing with my instrument,” said Hannah. “And I don’t get to do that in school, because I’m the only French horn player in my grade. “Meanwhile, her sister Zoe says she gets a kick out of putting on a really good performance. “I feel really proud of myself, because I know I was working hard on the piece and proud of the band, because we work extremely hard,” says Zoe. “Some of the pieces we work on for three months.” She says performing with so many people, who like the same thing really makes the experience fun.

Catching the “Band Bug”

One of his students, Jordan Cornell, who plays drums in the Arlington Central School District, has also caught “the bug.” “It’s been great to be part of several bands in school because I love music, and it gives me an opportunity to spend time with others with the same interests,” says Jordan. “Being part of a jazz band, marching band, rock band and orchestra have really caused me to develop an interest in music that I might otherwise not have gotten into on my own.” Besides playing in multiple school bands, Jordan plays in a rock band with five other sophomores from his school. The band is called “Tearing Down the Stars.” Jordan started playing piano at the age of four and also plays the guitar, but his love for the drums started in the fourth grade and hasn’t stopped. “The benefits of being part of a band are tremendous, particularly in a school the size of Arlington High School,” says Jordan’s mom, Connie Cornell. “Jordan entered his freshman year with the 140 new friends he met during the two-week, full-day marching band camp prior to the start of school.”

Make music special for your kids.

Making beautiful music

While research has proven many benefits to playing a musical instrument, practicing and performing as a group allows students to take their musical experience to a new level. “Everybody depends upon everyone else to make the music right and to make it good,” said Hicks-Wozniak. “It can’t be held together by one person. Everybody has a part.” The idea of having a part in making beautiful music with so many other children makes these students passionate about being in the school band.

Miniature musicians

“It is never too early to introduce young children to music making,” says Miranda Haydn. As the director of Catskill Mountain Music Together, she works with children from birth to five years of age. “Listening to music on CDs, television, and videos is not the same as making live music oneself,” she says. Haydn feels all children are musical and can benefit from making music. She says the basic music competence achieved at an early age can be a foundation for formal musical studies in the future. Local programs like Catskill Mountain Music Together and Musical Munchkins work with young children to foster a love for music in a group setting that includes the use of instruments.

“It is my experience that formal music instruction of an instrument such as the study of the recorder, piano or violin, at a young age is best introduced in a group situation with plenty of movement, play and singing incorporated in the program,” says Andrea Soberman, director of Musical Munchkins of Orange County. “Children at this stage learn best in a playful environment and social setting.” Soberman feels children are generally ready for individual music lessons by the time they reach elementary school, but she says some would-be virtuosi, may be ready earlier.

Getting started

Even if a child doesn't begin early, it’s never too late to start playing an instrument and enjoying the benefits. Poughkeepsie drum teacher, Eric Wagner says his average student begins taking classes between the ages of eight and twelve-years-old. Occasionally, he accepts even younger students, who show enthusiasm for playing the drums. When looking for someone to teach private lessons, Wagner suggests doing some research by getting recommendations from other parents, school band teachers and word of mouth to make sure the teacher has a solid musical background. “Find out of if your prospective teacher still performs regularly,” says  Wagner. “This will add to the confidence of knowing, if he is a good teacher and whether the teacher practices his craft.”

Janine Boldrin is a writer who lives in West Point with her family.