Inner-city music proves arts can teach to huge impact in Battle Creek

Editor’s note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave Ground Battle Creek Series.

BATTLE CREEK, Miss. — Notes, beat and key are the cornerstones of a well-rounded education, said center director Carolyn Ballard Music Center Impact program.

A retired educator who served as a teacher and principal of Battle Creek Public Schools lake view SBallard grew up in New Jersey in a musical family of nine boys and nine girls. She said her mother was a “gifted” singer and church musician who surrounded her children with music and formed a family gospel singing group. She took them singing in church concerts and shows, many of which featured performances by famous recording artists.

“I’ve been singing since I could talk,” Ballard said.

As an educator with 48 years of experience participating in many community music events, she said she can make a direct connection between music and its impact on the brains of students who sing, dance or play instruments. This was not lost on former Music Center Director Marge Weil, who approached Ballard in 2001 with a concept she proposed called “IMPACT” (Inner City Music Proving Art Can Teach).

“Maggie heard that there were kids whose families couldn’t afford music lessons. There was a large group of gifted kids out there, and she wanted to find a way to supplement those costs,” Ballard said. “The music center has a lot of kids attending, but not a lot of kids of color and other demographics because their families can’t afford to send them.”

Around this time, a choir of teenagers and adults was gathering to sing at the 1999 dedication of the Sojourner Truth Statue in Monument Park. Continue the show after it’s over. It made sense, she said, because there were no major choirs of color in Battle Creek, which led to the formation of the Sojourner Truth Choir, which became part of the IMPACT program in 2001.

During the first five years of IMPACT, students have the opportunity to take piano, drums, violin, guitar, voice lessons as well as tap, ballet, jazz and hip-hop dance classes, and there is a junior choir open to children ages 4-6.” Music Center said CEO Susan Balbaugh.

The cost of these courses is paid for by a grant from the WK Kellogg Foundation.

“Once those funds were exhausted, Ballard was asked to choose which courses were considered the most impactful,” Balbo said. “Drums, piano and dance are the most popular.”

However, by this time the original choir had become an integral part of IMPACT, so Balbuagh, Music Center staff and board members opted for drums, piano and choir.

The Sojourner Truth Choir meets every Wednesday after school. Drum lessons and piano lessons start at 4:30pm on Mondays and Tuesdays respectively, with each lesson lasting 40 minutes and lasting until 7:50pm. Ballard said the ideal size is 10 per section for pianos and 12 per section for drums. Currently, there is a waiting list for all classes except choir, as classes are full.

Courtesy of Battle Creek Music Center“We have several students who are in choir, drums or piano, and some who are in all three,” she said.

The IMPACT program has strong financial backers that enable the Music Center to continue Pay everyone involved, Balbo said.

“IMPACT has its own following in terms of donors,” she said. “They are very committed to making sure the program has the funds it needs to continue. These are large individual donors and churches. The Music Center subsidizes the portion not covered by symphony ticket sales.

In 2023, IMPACT received a three-year $75,000 grant from the WK Kellogg Foundation specifically for the choir. Balbo said that’s because the group often appears at community events. At the same time, the music center also hopes to provide opportunities for more families and children.

WKKF program officer Alana White said to achieve this, more support and investment in the arts was needed.

“We are a foundation that cares about children. Over the past five years, we have been trying to really reach out and support programs and projects that engage children in a variety of ways,” White said. “When Caroline, Susan, and I met, I was very interested in finding ways to support the choir and IMPACT as a way to support the creativity of children in our community.”

Courtesy of Battle Creek Music CenterShe said she’s been blown away by the program’s growth, with past participants looking to become mentors, teachers and coaches for students.

Drum and piano lessons are open to students in grades 2-6, and choir is open to youth ages 7 and up. Ballard said approximately 195 students participate in IMPACT throughout the year, 45 of whom are choir members.

About 85 percent of the students represent the district’s African-American, Burmese and Latino communities, Balbo said.

There is no limit to the number of people who can join the choir, and they don’t need to audition because “we can develop that skill,” Ballard said. “We train kids and give them opportunities to share their gifts and talents in the community. They become better because they hear the voices of those around them. In return, when they receive positive reviews from diverse audiences, their Confidence will grow.

In addition to singing, choir members are taught the importance of good character, mutual respect and teamwork.

“To be part of a team, you have to learn to sing and get along with the people around you,” Ballard said. “These skills are helpful as people enter the workforce.”

Hit the high notes, get the results

As an educator, Ballard saw how students involved in music excelled academically. She cites numerous studies that confirm that children who play instruments or sing perform better academically than their peers who don’t.

Results from several of these studies indicate that music study (instrumental study or participation in a choir or band) has a positive impact on overall academic performance as well as on performance in specific areas of primary, secondary, and university students.

They also revealed that according to an article on music education, secondary school students who continued music training after completing compulsory music education performed significantly better than non-music students in all school subjects and showed higher levels of academic achievement. National Library of Medicine website.

Courtesy of Battle Creek Music Center“The authors (of these studies) found that students who participated in music learning performed better in English, math, history and science.”

Ballard has been tracking these studies, which support what she’s known all along: that children’s exposure to the arts has long-term positive effects.

“One factor that has always stood out is that students who take music classes in school demonstrate greater academic ability. side Same thing,” she said. “However, if school budgets are cut, the first thing to be cut is the arts.”

She believes it’s crucial to get kids involved in the arts because “not every kid is going to be an athlete or a straight-A student.””.

Extracurricular music education can also help alleviate the frustration experienced by middle school and high school band teachers, who often work with a new group of students each year, many of whom do not understand the basics of music. This necessitates that band teachers start at the introductory level, delaying the ability to rehearse and compose music.

“If we can give these children a good start for free, then When they get into middle school and high school band, they’re a step ahead,” Ballard said. “A band teacher would be delighted to instruct a group of students who understand the fundamentals of music.

So while singing “la la la la la” may seem like a lot of “blah blah blah,” using drumsticks to create a beat or hitting the right keys on the piano may seem like boredom, Ballard said. pursuit, imagine practicing skills that can prepare children to become the next generation of musicians, teachers, doctors, or lawyers.

“Art, despite its raw results, plays an important role in the lives of many Americans, myself included,” she said. “Why do we grow up saying ‘It doesn’t matter’?”

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