Winter concerts December 13 through 21
By Elizabeth Sheeran
If the sound of cash registers and mall traffic is beginning to wear thin, Somerville school kids are ready with the musical antidote. Thousands of public school students will perform in nearly a dozen free winter concerts in the coming days.
The roster of performers will span from pre-kindergartners stepping on the stage for the first time, to seniors bound for college music programs. The program will include choruses, orchestras, bands and percussion ensembles. And the repertoire will include popular songs, classical pieces and folk music from around the world.
“It’s a celebration of the work that our students have done so far this year, and of the importance of bringing music to the community,” said Richard Saunders, director of music education for Somerville Public Schools.
The season of concerts kicks off on Thursday, December 13, with the All City Middle School Concert, which brings together musicians and singers from around the district. Because the Somerville High auditorium is still closed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the middle school concert will take place at the Cohen Auditorium at Tufts University, which will also be the venue for Somerville High’s annual Winter Concert on Thursday, December 20.
On Tuesday, December 18, “Community in Harmony” will bring together Somerville High School musicians with Somerville’s El Sistema youth orchestra to perform an evening of classic works by the likes of Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi, and featuring Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” And each of Somerville’s elementary schools will host its own winter concert, with at least one concert daily between December 14 and 21.
Saunders said Somerville’s school music program is unusual because any student can participate at every grade level, regardless of skill or past experience. Somerville’s open door policy means that recent immigrants learning their first instrument can perform alongside high school musicians who have actively participated since elementary school.
“Our music program reflects the diversity of our student body,” said Saunders. “We’ve focused on tiering our instruction for all types of learning. It’s a challenge but we make it work.”
That diversity ultimately enriches both the schools and the music curriculum, said Saunders, pointing to the high school’s World Percussion Ensemble as a program that promotes cultural understanding while at the same time producing star performers. But he said the main purpose of the school music program is not to groom professional musicians, but to bring the benefits of music education to every kid in Somerville.
“Our greatest minds, from Einstein on down, have had music training from a very early age,” said Saunders. “It’s troubling how our country sometimes views music education as discretionary, but I view it as essential.”
Advocates often cite studies that have found a correlation between music education and performance in subjects like math. Saunders said that may or may not be true, but whether or not music class can help boost math test scores is not the point, because music can stand on its own in terms of what it brings to a child’s education.
He said music builds students’ self-esteem, since they learn to set goals for themselves and reach milestones. They learn to work in a group cooperatively. They learn to express themselves creatively. And they learn to improvise. “We call those 21st century skills,” said Saunders. “They’re transferable to daily life.”
For students who may never play on a varsity sports team, the music program also gives them a chance to represent their school in the community and beyond. Student musicians take part in local events like the “Honk” street festival, for instance. And the Somerville High School chorus will have the unique opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. during the presidential inauguration next month.
This month’s Winter Concerts are just another entry in that long tradition of sharing school music with the community. “Music is for everyone,” said Saunders. “It’s part of being human.”
Somerville Public Schools Winter Concerts:
Thursday, December 13, 7 p.m. All City Middle School Concert, Cohen Auditorium at Tufts University, Medford
Friday, December 14, 9 a.m., East Somerville Community Schools first performance, in the Cummings Gym
Monday, December 17, 3:15 p.m., Brown School
Tuesday, December 18, 9 a.m., East Somerville Community Schools second performance, in the Edgerly Gym
Tuesday, December 18, 9 a.m., Winter Hill Community Innovation School
Tuesday, December 18, 6:30 p.m., “Community in Harmony,” East Somerville Community School Edgerly Gym
Wednesday, December 19, 6:30 p.m., Kennedy School
Thursday, December 20, 9 a.m., Healey School
Thursday, December 20, 9 a.m., West Somerville Neighborhood School
Thursday, December 20, 7 p.m., Somerville High School Concert, Cohen Auditorium, Tufts University, Medford
Friday, December 21, 9:15, Argenziano School
For more information go to www.somerville.k12.ma.us.