More than Melody

Remember when the jocks played sports and the geeks played musical instruments? Well, the term “band geek” has become a thing of the past as the music program in Edmond schools grows by leaps and bounds. Why? Because music is inherently "cool" and more kids are getting involved in the fun.

Peter Markes, director of the strings program at Cheyenne Middle School and Edmond North High School, attributes the tremendous growth in the orchestra program to a mix of factors, including a higher quality of instruction from teachers, improved facilities, such as new community auditoriums, and opportunities for travel.

According to Markes, these factors made orchestra programs more fun for kids, so enrollment started to grow. And as we all know, when kids’ friends find something fun, then even more kids want to be involved. In fact, the two schools where Markes teaches gain several new students each year and maintain high retention figures as students continue to develop their talent on the road to college.

The program’s success reaches beyond the boundaries of Oklahoma with experiences that give students lifelong memories. Some programs, like the Edmond North High School orchestra, plan an out-of-state trip each year. This year, Markes plans to take about sixty students to New York to perform in one of the world’s most prestigious venues–Carnegie Hall. The performance, scheduled for April 26, will be publicized in the area and students will be featured in a printed program and on the concert hall marquee. Previous trips have taken students to the Chicago Symphony Center, Dallas Meyerson Symphony Center, to New Orleans and to St. Louis to perform under the arch.

Additionally, students of string instruments in seventh through twelfth grades can try out for the North Central Honor Orchestra each fall. Competition for this prestigious group is fierce–typically about 550 students from Oklahoma’s north-central region (OKC, Edmond, Ponca City, Stillwater) try out for only eighty spots in one of three orchestras based on grade levels. Selected students spend an intense weekend working with a guest conductor of regional notoriety and prepare music for a concert in November at OCU.

Besides these incredible and memorable experiences, students gain other lifelong benefits from making music a part of their lives. On the surface, the program offers an opportunity to learn life lessons as students navigate pressure-filled auditions and deal with performance anxieties. When victories are won and applause is received, confidence is often built.

But, perhaps the biggest benefit is the “brain boosting” effect musical training seems to induce. Playing an instrument requires a complex combination of physical and mental skills—the physical ability and coordination to manipulate the instrument and the cognitive ability to interpret musical notation and listen to the sounds around the room.

Although very little is known about the so-called “Mozart effect,” research indicates that musical training enhances key areas of brain circuitry (“Music Training and the Brain,” Society for Neuroscience, In fact, some research has found a profound connection between musical study and higher grades through increased language, math, and spatial-temporal skills and a connection to increased social skills (American Music Conference,

Finally, at an even deeper level, music provides students with an emotional outlet. “Music is its own language, like Spanish or French. When students learn to speak the language of music, a whole new world opens up to them,” says Markes. His students learn to “talk” music and to understand the structure of classical music—how it can speak to you and communicate on intellectual and emotional levels.

“Music has its own sense of humor and personality. This is what makes it cool to kids, once they understand it.” Markes hopes that the growth in the program will encourage more students to make music part of their lives–as their career or as a key outlet for wherever life takes them.

For more information about the opportunities offered through middle and high school music programs in Edmond, parents should consult the music teachers at their child’s school.

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