Pendleton - alive with the sound of music
School district is one of two in Oregon honored for strong music program
This article originally appeared in the May 11, 2010, East Oregonian and was written by reporter Kathy Aney. It has been posted to this web site with permission from the East Oregonian.
Steve Muller lifted his wrist with a flourish and the Pendleton High School swing choir burst into a flood of sweet sounds that ebbed and flowed around the room. Accented by a cascade of soprano notes, the choir sang Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic "The Sound of Music."
"The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years."
The choice of song was serendipitous. Switch "hills" to "rolling wheat fields" and the lyrics could describe the musically-rich learning culture found in the Pendleton School District. The district is one of only two in Oregon - along with David Douglas - to receive a 2010 "Best Community for Music Education" award from the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation. The award, the result of a Web-based survey, rated curriculum and public support formusiceducation programs and honored 174 districts nationwide.
Participants in the survey answered detailed questions about funding, graduation requirements,musicclass participation, instruction time, facilities, support for themusicprogram, and other relevant factors about communitymusiceducation programs. Responses were verified with district officials. Advisory organizations reviewed the data.
"Pendleton scored high," said Mary Luehrsen, NAMM's executive director. "This relatively small school district is really holding onto their music education program and they're really, really proud of it."
Qualitymusiceducation is available from K-12 in Pendleton, Luehrsen said, and teachers, students and parents are fully engaged.
Such passion was on display in the PHS choir room this week.
From the second row, senior Deven Jennings blended his clear, strong tenor with the tones of his fellow singers. Muller kept the beat with outstretched index fingers, softly mouthing the words.
Muller and Jennings are two of a multitude of reasons Pendleton shined in NAMM's Best Communities for Music Education Survey. Jennings, underMuller's guidance, sang his way to the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Neb. His version of "Gethsemane" from "Jesus Christ Superstar" earned Jennings championship honors in solo musical theater.
The district's strings program is another gold star.
In a time when many districts are downsizing theirmusicofferings, Pendleton stuttered a bit and then hung tight to its music curriculum. The school board last year cut the elementary strings program under intense budget pressure, but quickly yanked the program off the chopping block after community members protested loudly and donated thousands of dollars to keep it afloat.
The strings program began in the late 1960s when Betty Feves urged her fellow school board members to bring the Suzuki method of teaching stringed instruments to the district. Though popular in Japan, the teaching style hadn't yet reached the United States. Feves flew to Japan to find out more, then brought the curriculum back to Pendleton. The method, which involves immersion and memorizing by rote, caught on quickly.
Now, years later, strings alumnus Emily Muller Callendar directs the program. Callender also sings operatically, plays piano and has performed on "A Prairie Home Companion." Callendar was thrilled, but not shocked, at the NAMM award.
"I don't think is should come as a big surprise," she said. "We have an amazing community formusic."
Andy Cary, PHS band director who took the concert band to state last year, also credited the community.
"It's very telling of our community's priorities," Cary said.
One of the parents who fought for the strings program was Michelle Sitz. Her three children have immersed themselves in both band and orchestra, the strings program, the A-Sharp Players and the Oregon East Symphony.
"The programs we have here are unique and special," Sitz said. "We're rural and smaller and our resources are limited. It's extraordinary that we can keep it going."
This is an award that really goes to our entire community," said Tricia Baker, assistant superintendent of the District. "Pendleton has set itself apart as a community with the overwhelming support shown for music education."