The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Meet J’Nai Bridges who went from the dream of playing professional basketball to the reality of singing professional opera

January 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Baseball season is done.

Football season is almost over.

Basketball season is here.

So it seems an appropriate time for The Ear to share a great story about sports and classical music that he recently saw on the PBS NewsHour.

It is also a good story about good luck to run today, on Friday the 13th, a date that is traditionally synonymous with bad luck.

The story concerns J’Nai Bridges (below) who started out wanting to be a professional basketball player.

jnai-bridges

That dream fell apart dramatically and suddenly — though she doesn’t reveal if it was an injury or some other cause.

But then good luck unexpectedly stepped in.

During her senior year in high school, she signed up for choir as an elective and her teacher immediately recognized her gift.

She started late, but she had the right attitude to stay open to new discoveries and new possibilities.

Turns out she possesses a world-class mezzo-soprano voice. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Bridges singing an aria from “Carmen” by Georges Bizet .)

And now she has gone on to a career in opera and is a rising star singing major roles in major opera houses around the world.

The Ear thinks that Bridges’ words reflect wisdom that others should share in.

For one, her moving story also highlights the importance of a liberal arts education, where you can try out many different subjects you have no idea about and see what you like and how you do. That gives students a chance to explore their untapped interests and potential.

It also runs contrary to some of the current politicians who want to reform secondary and higher education into a kind of trade school or vocational training ground for work and careers.

It also is a fine summary of the role that music plays both for the performer and for the audience.

Here is a link to the moving and informative story:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/sports-gave-way-singing-rising-star/

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Classical music education: Let us now praise K-12 music teachers as an elementary music teacher in Whitewater wins an award for Excellence in Music Education

May 31, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Memorial Day holiday is over and now we start winding down the academic year in public and private K-12 schools.

That makes it a great time to catch up with news that reminds us how important music education and education in the arts, humanities and liberal arts, can be to the development of the whole child or young person and to lifelong learning.

It helps us to realize that, despite what many legislators say, education should never be a trade school that provides vocational education or career preparation, and that education is not always all about the so-called STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – deemed so useful to business, industry and individual wealth accumulation. (You can hear educator Richard Gill give a popular TED Talk about the value of music education in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So here is open important reminder via a press release:

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and Ward-Brodt Music have awarded their 2016 Award for Excellence in Music Education to Whitewater music teacher Christine Hayes of Lincoln/LINCS Elementary School at a choir concert for grades 2-5.

The presentation was held on Tuesday, May 17, in the Whitewater High School Auditorium.

This annual award celebrates an educator who displays leadership, passion, dedication, and innovation within the music classroom, positively affecting the lives of his or her students and the community at large, and is designated for one outstanding music educator in southern Wisconsin.

The MSO and Ward-Brodt developed the award to recognize that cultivating the artistic growth of young students is one of the unique and challenging jobs for teachers in Wisconsin.

Christine Hayes (below) has dedicated her life to enriching young people and the communities around her through music education. In her 29 years of working in the Whitewater Unified School District and by contributing to music in her community in a variety of ways, she’s changed the lives of many students and her colleagues. She believes that “inspiring and challenging children today will lead to their embracing music for their lifetime.”

Christine Hayes

In the nominations by parents, teaching colleagues, church members, and school administrators, Hayes was described as “a power house of creative energy” who “encourages children to express their feelings through music.”

Her students at Lincoln/LINCS Elementary School, where she has spent the last 19 years, can take part in diverse musical experiences including world drumming, playing guitar and recorder, composing music, and singing in many languages. All of these experiences for children make her classroom “an exciting, musical adventure.”

She has also taught elementary and middle school band, middle school guitar, keyboards and general music.

A former colleague who nominated her wrote, “Mrs. Hayes leads by example by continuing to find ways to improve as an educator by constantly pursuing her own education. She recently completed a trip to Ghana in order to learn about their musical culture.”

In her own words, Hayes said, “My goal is for each student to imagine themselves in musical experiences, provide them authentic learning situations where they create, respond, perform and connect, then collaborate with those students to apply their knowledge and skills to discover their personal musical path.”

Outside the classroom, she founded an after-school orchestra where she volunteers her time as coordinator allowing children to enrich their music education. Currently in its eighth year, the Whitewater Unified School District Strings Program has touched the lives of many school children, with 72 students participating this past year, ranging from fourth grade to high school.

She is also a music leader in her community. Hayes has been serving as the Choir Director for the First United Methodist Church in Whitewater for the past 20 years and served on the board of directors of the Whitewater Arts Alliance for five years.

In her free time she plays clarinet with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Community Band.

Hayes has also been deeply involved with developing Wisconsin state standards for music education by serving on the writing committee for the National Common Core Music Standards from 2012 to 2014.

In 2015, she was asked to join the Steering Committee for the Wisconsin Music Educators Association (WMEA), continuing her work to improve music education in Wisconsin. Hayes has served as the Chair of the NAfME National Council for General Music Education and as a President of the WMEA.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in music education from Central Michigan University and a master’s degree in music from Northwestern University. She currently resides in Whitewater, Wisconsin.

In 2007 she won the Wal-Mart Wisconsin Teacher of the Year award and in 2008 the Herb Kohl Fellowship Award.

Hayes will be awarded a commemorative plaque and a $500 prize. These prizes have been made possible through the generosity of Ward-Brodt Music of Madison, Wisconsin.  To be qualified for the award, a nominee must have taught within a 75-mile radius of Madison in a public or private K-12 school and instructed a band, orchestra, choir or general music course.

Colleagues, current or former students, parents of students, or friends were eligible to nominate a music educator for the award.

The review panel consisted of representatives from public and private school administration, veteran teachers, university staff and knowledgeable community members. (For the sake of full disclosure, The Ear sat on the committee that reviewed the many impressive nominations and decided the winner of the award.)

For more information regarding the Award for Excellence in Music Education, visit http://madisonsymphony.org/award.


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