Strike up the Band: Oklahoma City's Top Music Programs - MetroFamily Magazine
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Strike up the Band: Oklahoma City's Top Music Programs

by Introduction by Hannah Schmitt, Article by Mark Smith

Reading Time: 8 minutes 

This month brings us to our fourth and final installment of MetroFamily’s series on Introducing Kids to the Arts. Check out part one, part two and part three of the series. Since December, we’ve shared with you the value of creative experiences to kids and revealed some of the great ways for them to encounter the arts in the metro. This month, we highlight instrumental music. 

The Arts Education Partnership’s Music Matters study reports a long list of academic and social benefits to music education. Exposing kids to music from a young age prepares students for learning, according to the report.

Young music students have superior working memory, better thinking skills and improved fine motor skills. As they grow up, exposure to music improves their ability to recall and retain verbal information while also advancing math achievement. Older music students have sharpened attentiveness, better study habits and self-esteem and higher SAT scores. 

These are just a few of the benefits of music education called out in the report, but they all are evident to Cindy Scarberry, an Oklahoma City metro music teacher, executive director of the Opry Heritage Foundation and founder of the Opry’s Granville Community Music School. The teachers at the school, located at 2304 Exchange Ave., have seen the benefits first-hand.

“That’s really the sole reason we started this program,” Scarberry said about the statistics. “We have witnessed the power of music and we know what it can do in the lives of children. It’s so much more than just about the music.”

She sees students in the Granville Community Music School become more confident, make better grades, make new friends and overcome social issues all because of the music lessons. 

“They’re doing better here, so we know it’s about more than music,” she said. “It’s about so many life skills they can learn through music.”

Oklahoma City offers endless opportunities for kids to engage in music from early childhood all the way through high school. To the surprise of some parents, most music programs don’t require any previous experience or musical talent, just a desire to get involved and learn something new. 

Below, we discuss music education options at both public schools and private institutions, including Granville. While we cannot list every Oklahoma City music program available to youth, we hope this list provides inspiration and encourages you to seek out additional musical experiences that might be a good fit for your family. 

Granville Community Music School

Granville started in 2009 with just 15 students. Today, the school serves 200 students and according to Scarberry, the program is looking to grow if they can recruit more instructors and get more instrument donations to serve the students on the waiting list.

Any Oklahoma City student who qualifies for free or reduced lunch programs also qualifies for the Granville Community Music School. The school offers weekly music lessons and instrument rental to students who otherwise wouldn’t have the means to learn to play an instrument. Students in the program schedule lessons at the school weekly.

To illustrate the success of Granville, Scarberry told a story of one of the early students in the program. He started playing the flute at the music school in 2009 and by the time he was graduating high school, the college offers and music scholarships were pouring in. 

“We noticed early on that he had a huge talent,” she said, “and he started thinking about college and dreaming of becoming a professional musician, a band director, a teacher.”

The whole world opened up to him through music, she said. The student decided to go to college and is now in his second year as a chemistry major at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even though he didn’t choose to pursue music professionally, Scarberry said she is proud about the role music has played in his life.

“I’m not worried about trying to make them all musicians,” she said of Granville students. “I just want them to realize that there is a big world they can be part of and have an impact on and you can get the confidence and the resources and the networking all right here through music.”

Scarberry sees music impact all kinds of students, not just the ones at Granville. In addition to her duties there, she’s been teaching music for 20 years and currently teaches at Norman High School weekday mornings and Monroe Elementary weekday afternoons. 

“I’m also a singer-songwriter,” she said. “I grew up in church, my dad was a preacher and my mom played piano so music was always a big part of my life. I know what music has done for me. I’ve been able to use music to help me through some of the hardest times in my life.”

To be able to provide free lessons to Oklahoma City youth, the music school relies on the generosity of local teachers and music enthusiasts and on local businesses willing to support the cause. Granville recently was awarded the $50,000 Cox Connects IMPACT Grant and has received funding from the Oklahoma Arts Council, Devon Energy, Taco Mayo and the Kirkpatrick Foundation. 

There are no auditions for the free music school but students must complete an eight-week music theory class to qualify for lessons. Granville is open to students between 9 and 18 years old.

NOTE: If you have a musical instrument you’d like to donate, are interested in donating your time as an instructor or would like to inquire about lessons for your child, please contact oprystaff@ohfo.org. 

Oklahoma Youth Orchestras

Oklahoma Youth Orchestras offer additional musical education opportunities for Oklahoma City metro students. Jason Edward Grife, executive director of the Oklahoma Youth Orchestras, said his main goal is to prepare students for life and to correct inaccurate views regarding orchestras.

“Instrumental music opportunities for today’s young musicians are necessary for both the continuation of the art form and the continued development of the art form’s audience,” Grife said. “It also is important as an organization that we help eliminate the view that orchestral music is ‘high art’ and only for the affluent. Music is meant to be created and enjoyed by everyone.”

The Oklahoma Youth Orchestras cater to all kinds of students. With 12 ensembles and 300 students from Central and Western Oklahoma, the program has what it takes to create the next Mozart.

The orchestras play at prestigious Oklahoma City events and with talented adult groups including the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.

“The organization offers auditioned classical orchestras, a wind ensemble, string orchestras and even rock music,” Grife said. “Our students join in with their peers from all over the state each week to make music together.”

Oklahoma Youth Orchestras typically play concerts September through May, but Grife said ensembles do play other venues throughout the year.

“Our youngest students perform community outreach concerts to senior living communities,” he said, “and string orchestras work with nationally-renowned music educators during our Guest Conductor Workshop series.”

Younger students can play without auditions but are required to be able to read music and one year of experience. Students also are asked to participate in their school musical program, if available. Older students must audition for placement within one of the ensembles. The programs are designed for students from 5th to 12th grade with at least one year of instrument experience and the ability to read music. 

Tuition ranges from $300 to $525 per year. Oklahoma Youth Orchestras provide several payment plans, and financial aid is available as well. Auditions for 2015-2016 will be hosted May 16, 17 and 18. Parents can learn more at www.harrisonacademy.org.

In addition to ensembles, Oklahoma Youth Orchestras plan to start its first summer camp next year. 

“Summer Symphony Strings Camp is a week-long day camp designed for young string players grades five through eight,” Grife said “The camp is non-auditioned and concludes in a final performance for families.”

For more information about joining the Oklahoma Youth Orchestras, contact info@oyomusic.org or call 405-232-1199. 

Mustang Public Schools

The Mustang Broncos teaches school pride through its renowned music and band programs. 

With nearly 1,000 students from Mustang Public Schools, the band’s size allows it to be a major competitive force according to Bandleader Ryan Edgmon. The group has been recognized as one of the top achieving bands in the state.

“Our size allows us to facilitate more activities at all levels of achievement than many of our neighbor programs,” Edgmon said. “We have a marching band that is a top competitor at our state competition.”

The band’s impressive performances have allowed students to compete on the national level, as well. The past two seasons have taken the group to compete in Indianapolis and St. Louis and the jazz program and wind ensemble have been recognized for their talents, as well.

Enrollment is open to all sixth graders and up. Band is a seven-year continuous course of study that starts when students are in 6th grade. 

For more information, parents can contact Edgmon at 405-376-7340.

Edmond Memorial High School

For Edmond Memorial High School student Josh Bruza, joining the band meant more than learning to play music. It also meant finding friends and discovering a sense of belonging. Josh’s mom, Margret Bruza, said his standard response to how band practice went is “band is love, band is life.”

“Band is a brotherhood,” Josh said. “The students enjoy marching as it is a lot of fun, and after months of effort and practice, everyone experiences a great sense of accomplishment. It’s a support group where even incoming freshmen are welcomed immediately.”

His family doesn’t have a music background, but Josh joined the band in middle school and immediately found a new skill and a tight group of friends. Band doesn’t just offer a sense of belonging and accomplishment; it encourages and motivates students to perform better academically and socially.

Band also connects students with a creative outlet that improves their self-esteem. Josh said he’s become better at time management and multitasking since joining the band and has more commitment and motivation than before. 

Founded in 1938, EMHS’ Big Bad Bulldog Band offers high school students the marching band, three concert bands and three jazz ensembles. EMHS’ marching band is a competitive band that performs halftime at all home football games. Members also perform at contests and festivals.

Wind bands consist of three separate groups – Symphonic Band (Grades 10-12), Wind Ensemble (Grades 9-12) and Concert Band (entry level).

Assessment fees for the band start at $225, and parents are responsible for trips and marching shoes. For more information about EMHS bands, contact the school at 405-340-2850.

Crooked Oak Public Schools

Southeast Oklahoma City school district Crooked Oak Public Schools staff members take pride in helping beginners learn the foundation of music. District administrators believe music education connects students with other concentrations.

“It is our mission,” said Crooked Oak High School Band Teacher Maria Ward, “to provide an exceptional music education to every single student that is interested in participating, regardless of financial constraints or scheduling conflicts with other activities or classes.”

The school offers a beginners class for high school students who want to learn an instrument but didn’t take band in middle school. Crooked Oak also has an advanced level band which competes in state tournaments and performs at various venues.

“Our advanced high school band is small but mighty,” Ward said. “The students work very hard to perform in a variety of venues including football games, basketball games and veteran events.”

Ward said the band’s success is a testimony to the commitment and passion of each student. 

“The students love music and jump at any opportunity to share their love of music with others,” she said. “We also strive to provide students with opportunities they may not otherwise.”  

Crooked Oak provides 100 percent of all materials and costs. Parents and students are not required to contribute financially to the band. For more information, contact Ward at mward@crookedoak.org or 405-677-5252 ext. 125.

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