Home Emotional music 1-2-3-4: Music education and its role in Huntsville’s music ecosystem

1-2-3-4: Music education and its role in Huntsville’s music ecosystem

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Numbers don’t lie – children enrolled in music education programs generally have higher levels of academic success than those who don’t.

Whether it’s learning piano, studio engineering or concert production, growing Huntsville’s music ecosystem will largely depend on having a steady pipeline of talent on the stage and behind the scenes. That’s why Huntsville Music Officer Matt Mandrella is passionate about promoting music programs, instructors and students.

During Huntsville Music Month, the City hosted successful examples of music education, including the Huntsville Community Drumline, Sierra Hammond from Opera Huntsville, Jemison High School Band and Laila Willis, a 9-year-old violin student.

The Huntsville Music Office also co-sponsored a musical instrument drive with Huntsville City Schools, Maitland Arts Initiative and Microwave Dave Music Education Foundation.

“If we’re really serious about developing a world-renowned music ecosystem in Huntsville, we’ll always need to keep a heavy focus on growing our music education programs and ensuring people have access to them,” Mandrella said. “We already have some really amazing programs at both the public and private levels, and it’s essential that our community finds a way to continue supporting our instructors and students. It’s awesome when you see talented young people achieve success, but that’s less likely to happen without all of our support.”

The Huntsville Community Drumline performs outside City Hall on Sept. 8, 2022.

positive proof

Statistics from the Children’s Music Workshop and National Association of Music Merchants Foundation both indicate children who study music have higher vocabularies and excel at math and spelling. Evidence also suggests children who study music have higher school attendance and graduation rates.

A woman lifts her arms to direct a group of young students playing violin.

Music teacher Rebecca Wortham says music education builds character and teaches the value of teamwork because there are no superstars within a band – it requires all parts being played.

These facts don’t surprise Rebecca Wortham or Mario Maitland. Wortham, a choir and band teacher for Huntsville City Schools, began teaching music as a high school sophomore in the late 1980s.

Wortham, who took private piano, violin, flute and cello lessons as a child, explained music education fills empty spaces, forms connections in the brain and helps with pattern recognition, memory and spatial reasoning. More importantly, she said, it helps build character and teaches the value of teamwork because there are no superstars within a band – it requires all parts being played.

“(Students) realize music is a great uniter – a language spoken by all,” she said. “I’ve seen students offer hugs and tissues to others when they become overwhelmed with emotion as they play pieces that are meaningful or sentimental to them. It’s beautiful to witness as a teacher and fellow musician.”

Opera Huntsville's Sierra Hammond performs the

Opera Huntsville’s Sierra Hammond performs the “Star-Spangled Banner” Sept. 8, 2022, before the start of a City Council meeting.

Changing lives

Like Wortham, Maitland has seen incredible transformations in youth who take music lessons. Years ago, he was one of them. Maitland, CEO and founder of Maitland Conservatory and member of the Huntsville Music Board, began taking lessons at Andrea Clarke’s School of Music when he was 12. At that time, he had low self-confidence because there were things he didn’t understand or couldn’t do well.

“When I started learning music and got really good at it, it gave me confidence that there was something I was good at, something no one else could take away from me,” he said. “It felt good to be celebrated by my peers and adults for my talent.”

Mario Maitland, CEO and founder of Maitland Conservatory and member of the Huntsville Music Board, began taking lessons at Andrea Clarke's School of Music when he was 12.

Mario Maitland, CEO and founder of Maitland Conservatory and member of the Huntsville Music Board, began taking lessons at Andrea Clarke’s School of Music when he was 12.

Reflecting on his students from over the years, Maitland recalled a former piano student who started at Maitland Conservatory as a shy 9-year-old with no confidence in his abilities. As he worked through the program and learned new skills, the boy’s confidence jumped.

“By age 13, he became the minister of music for his church,” Maitland said of the student. “Shortly after, he decided to become a piano major in college. He’s now teaching for Maitland Conservatory and working on his own album.”

For Wortham, at least one success story hits close to home. Her youngest son was born with Global Cerebra Atrophy, meaning he’s missing part of his brain. Despite that challenge, he plays clarinet and expresses himself through music when he can’t find the words.

Last year, he was recognized for a musical composition submitted to a national competition. Wortham said the award made her son feel “just as smart as the kids who don’t have special needs.”

Nine-year-old violinist Laila Willis smiles as she completes her performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" on violin at a City Council meeting on Sept. 22, 2022. She is wearing glasses and a red dress and is holding a violin bow.

Nine-year-old violinist Laila Willis smiles as she completes her performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on violin at a City Council meeting on Sept. 22, 2022.

Growing the ecosystem

Maitland and Wortham said they share the City’s belief that a successful music ecosystem is dependent on successful music education programs. Wortham pointed out that while Huntsville is known for its space and science programs, Albert Einstein played violin and space pioneer John Glen grew up in a musical family.

“Music, science and math are closely related,” she said. “Further, a thriving community is one in which multiple interests are represented. I’m thankful for local musical giants, like Microwave Dave, whose foundation gives back to local public schools.”

Maitland said he realizes some parents and guardians can’t afford music education. That’s why the Maitland Conservatory developed the Maitland Arts Initiative, which provides free scholarships to students. It also led to the creation of satellite locations to make it easier on parents and students to attend.

When asked about what he would tell a parent or guardian about the value of music education, Maitland simply said it can yield exponential academic and emotional results.

“In my case, exposure to a music program in the fourth grade led to this being what I do for a living,” he said. “Now I have had the ability to touch thousands of people and create a place where others are able to do the same.”

To learn more about Huntsville’s music education programs, visit HuntsvilleMusic.com/Education.

The drum major for the Mae C. Jemison High School Band lifts her arms to direct the band outside City Hall on Sept. 22, 2022. She is wearing a white T-shirt that says "Respect the Den." There are musicians in the background with instruments raised.  They are wearing blue T-shirts.

The drum major for the Mae C. Jemison High School Band lifts their arms to direct the band outside City Hall on Sept. 22, 2022.