Emily Palese started a program of violin lessons in the Bicol region of the Philippines, where she serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Though her assignment is teaching high school English, she became interested in local children’s involvement with music.
When she asked her students if any of them play violin, viola, cello, or bass, they laughed. “Violins are only for rich people,” they said.
Emily wrote to the assistant director of the Manila Symphony Orchestra, who is also in charge of the organization’s youth outreach efforts.
In her note, Emily told of her own experiences with music and how they benefitted her. Thanks to the generosity of the orchestra, two violins were sent, and Emily now gives lessons to 19 students.
Kay Black, Emily’s orchestra director in secondary school in New Berlin, Wisconsin, recalls that “Emily was always a very giving, sweet person, even as a seventh grader. She had the ability to see beyond what was happening immediately in her world.”
In a school that spans grades 7 to 12, Kay Black saw the musical and personal growth of her orchestra students. Many students who stayed involved with orchestra became mentors for their younger classmates. Among the many traits she saw her students learn or develop, Black lists several:
“Responsibility, dedication, passion, creativity, critical thinking, ownership, problem-solving skills, leadership. . . . Discipline, certainly, and an incredible amount of energy.”
Emily also wrote in her letter that “music is free, and it’s for everyone. [Children in Bicol] aren’t any less deserving of the opportunity to develop musical talent than someone born to a rich family. They just haven’t been fortunate enough to be given the chance.”
Black offers some final thoughts on Emily’s violin program:
“Emily’s story is so poignant to me because the kids had laughed at music not being an attainable goal because of their socioeconomic status.
“There’s a lot at stake in all forms of education. With music programs here being cut or at risk of being cut, it’s important to take a step back and show the importance and power of these programs.
“There’s a problem when only the privileged are able to learn and develop themselves through the arts. If our leaders and most influential stake holders in education (elected officials, administrators, and parents) don’t value the arts and our music programs, then our children are not receiving a full education. Unfortunately, this is a growing challenge for fine arts educators even after decades of research pointing to the multiple benefits of a strong arts education.”
To seek additional funding for your own music program, visit the Glee/Give a Note contest page.
Kay Black teaches orchestra and strings in the school district of New Berlin, Wisconsin. She held the Eisenhower Middle and High School Orchestra Director position from 2001-2011. She currently teaches at Glen Park, Orchard Lane, and Poplar Creek elementary schools.
—Gregory Reinfeld, September 27, 2011. © National Association for Music Education