School Guitar Ensemble Demonstrates Advantages of a Strong Music Program for Education Secretary Duncan

May 11 was a chilly, rainy day in Washington DC, but that failed to dampen the spirits of Scott Seifried’s guitar ensemble.

Seifried, director of the guitar program at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Virginia, and his his advanced guitar ensemble stood under an overhang at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, DC waiting to perform. They were one of several school groups invited to play at an advocacy event organized by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM). NAMM and MENC partner in the advocacy organization

U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at the event, which was moved from the plaza in front of the building to a tent that sheltered guests from the inclement weather.

Speaking in support of music and arts programs as part of a well-rounded education, Duncan said, “We all know that these are tough economic times. There are funding shortfalls in every state. But we also know that all children deserve a well-rounded education that includes music and the arts. We must keep fighting for that. It is a fight worth fighting.”

At one point Duncan glanced at the guitar ensemble and said, “I know I am looking at students with good grades and probably student leaders. That’s the benefit of music programs. Keep it up. Don’t disappoint me.”

Seifried said his students “were very excited to be asked. It was an honor for us, and a great opportunity for the students to advocate for something they have a strong investment in.”

Mary Jane DeWeese, whose son plays in the group, echoed Duncan’s remarks. “Music programs are important because they benefit students in so many other ways,” she said. “And so many people don’t realize that. It is often first to be threatened with cuts when budget problems surface. That is wrong.”

Robinson is a school with a strong music program including beginning and advanced guitar classes. Director of the guitar program since 2006, Seifried has been teaching guitar at Robinson since 1991.

After the performance, he discussed the program, which included:

“Autumne” – Jurg Kindle
“Guantanamera” – arr. Hirsh
“Xote” – Celso Machado
“Middle Fork” – Leo Welch (commissioned for the ensemble through a Wolftrap Foundation Grant)
“The Sound of Paradiddle” – Jurg Kindle
“Intercity” – Annette Kruisbrink
“Las Ramblas” – Nathalie Lachance

Seifried said that the ensembles perform about four concerts per year, each with a different repertoire. And how did his students calmly perform their program in a crowded tent filled with dignitaries, photographers and videographers?

“We talk all the time about preparing for real-world performances, being ready to perform anywhere. This about as real world as it gets,” Seifried said with a laugh.

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Roz Fehr, May 13, 2010 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education

Click on any thumbnail to view the full-size photo. Photos by Roz Fehr.