Students at Alexander Hamilton have been practicing diligently to prepare for their black belt test. No, they aren’t studying martial arts; they are students in Jean Graziano’s instrumental music program at Alexander Hamilton School, and they are working their way through the District’s “Instrument Karate” assessment—learning new skills, becoming more adept at performance, and reaching key benchmarks in their development as musicians.
In the Morris School District, students may begin instrumental music (band or orchestra) in fourth grade. For the next two years, they take small group lessons, play together as a full band or orchestra, and are exposed to multiple performance contexts such as Winter and Spring Concerts, Solo Nights, and STEAM night. By the time they graduate high school, those who remain with the program will have received nine academic years of instruction. Many opt to enroll in the Summer Music Academy as well, which offers students a chance to continue toward mastery in a dynamic, focused summer program.
It is this full trajectory of music education—a “musical journey” across a continuum of opportunities—that affords Morris School District students a particular advantage. Ariella Schwam, who teaches both instrumental and vocal music at Normandy Park School, maintains that “the Morris School District is a special place because it fosters the musical growth that allows students to take the foundation they get at the elementary level and run with it!” Indeed, when they reach Frelinghuysen Middle School, students are ready to participate in a wide range of musical forums: a regular schedule of classes and group lessons in addition to concerts, competitions, festivals, and honor bands. FMS offers Band and Orchestra as year-long electives, and students may also audition for the extracurricular Wind Symphony and Jazz Band.
As the training ground for students’ ongoing music education, the elementary programs focus on helping students develop a lifelong love of and appreciation for the craft. Deborah Carroll states that her primary goal as the orchestra teacher at Sussex Avenue, Normandy Park and Thomas Jefferson schools is “to teach and guide students towards becoming independent musicians that will always value music as an important part of their lives.” Ms. Carroll believes the MSD stands out in the area of music education because it “offers students a true musical community where they will learn, evolve, and have so much fun as they continue through the music program.”
One of the best parts of teaching beginning musicians, says Jean Graziano, Alexander Hamilton’s concert band and jazz band teacher, is witnessing the transformation students undergo over the course of their two-year elementary school experience. She and her colleagues enjoy following their students’ success once they move on to the middle and high school programs, and witnessing the impact of the foundation they have provided is an enduring source of pride: “[Students] may be working with another teacher when they make Area Band or Regional Orchestra, win best soloist at a competition, or are recognized for their outstanding musicianship. But, to me, they are always ‘my kids’ because I knew them when they made that first squeak!”