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Music is an integral part of education at Park School

Sponsored by the Park School

Music is an integral part of education at Park School
Music classroom at the Park School.

Betty Hillmon

Music reverberates throughout Park School’s halls and pulsates through the academic calendar with three major performances—Grandparents’ and Special Friends’ Day in November, Yule Festival in December, and May Day on the first Friday of May. But there’s an amazing amount of learning that leads up to show time!

Park’s youngest students are frequent visitors to the music rooms. Pre-K has music four times a week in 20-minute sessions and Kindergarteners attend three times per week. Students in first through ninth grades have two 45-minute periods dedicated to music instruction.

Park’s four music teachers, all professional musicians, demand—and get—a lot out of their students. Betty Hillmon, Janice Allen, Scott Sandvik, and Mark Vialva approach their own music with intensity and expect their students to follow their lead.

“The four of us are very serious about music and the kids pick up on that,” Department Head Betty Hillmon explains. She is a cellist who conducts the Boston City-Wide String Orchestra and plays in the Quincy Symphony Orchestra, as well as in solo recitals. Betty, a Dorchester resident, has been teaching at Park since 1991.

Park’s music curriculum is based on the Kodály Method, an approach to music education developed in Hungary and now used throughout the world. In the Kodály Method, young children are introduced to complex musical concepts in a developmentally-appropriate sequence though listening, singing, and movement. Park’s music teachers consider young children’s growing abilities in determining the curriculum. Pre-K and kindergarten students sing simple songs with a one-octave range and short phrases, but lessons also include poetry, dance, drama, and composition.

As the students advance through the grades, their music becomes more sophisticated. Third graders delve into percussion instruments and begin to play the soprano recorder. In keeping with the Kodály pedagogy, Park’s music teachers add notation and writing skills to their lessons. To complement their knowledge of instruments and familiarity with different styles of music, fourth and fifth graders attend a Boston Symphony Orchestra youth concert at Symphony Hall and are treated to special in-school performances by guest artists such as African drummers, Japanese koto players, and chamber musicians.

Learning the recorder at the Park School.

By the time students have had eight years of instruction, they are ready to hone their performance skills. Eighth and ninth graders apply elements of music theory learned in previous years in one of four electives: chorus, percussion ensemble, jazz band, and acoustic guitar ensemble.

All 560 students, ages 4 to 15, perform at Yule Festival, which is a triumphal celebration demonstrating Park School’s values of inclusivity and diversity, culminating with a rousing rendition of “Children Go Where I Send Thee.”

Park is one of the few schools with the courage to represent so many different religious traditions in a non-sectarian space. The school distinguishes between songs that are about a particular faith and songs of worship that would be sung in a religious ceremony.

“The music should recognize, but not affirm, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any other religion,” Hillmon explains.

The readings are taken directly from different holy texts and include many personal touches such as a Muslim student reading from the Koran, or a Taiwanese math teacher reading a Buddhist prayer in Mandarin.

“I love the whole idea of Yule Festival because this program is where we hear and learn through song, dance, and spoken word about the many cultures that make up the Park School family,” Hillmon says.

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