Thursday, April 22, 2010

On this night, a life lesson took priority over school research project

By Kim Evans for the Herald-Times

Parenting for the past 12 years has proved to be an ongoing lesson in improvisation. Take Monday evening for example. Much to my daughter’s chagrin, I found myself pushing her to spend time on a school research project. With the project due in two weeks, I was trying to impart the wisdom of spreading out the work rather than waiting until the weekend before to cram it through, which is always painful.

We’re in the thick of our battle of wills when she decides to step out on the back porch. A moment later I hear, “Mom, there’s a hurt bird out here!”

My eyes immediately find the guilty-looking cat across the room.

I had left the porch door open. My husband had been laying a concrete stoop outside the back door all weekend, and the door had been off limits while the concrete set firmly enough to step on. This was the first evening our pets were enjoying the rediscovery of their passageway to the Great Outdoors — a little too much. Bird feathers were scattered over the new concrete.

So the homework was put on the back burner in an attempt to help the bird. A shoebox was found, air holes cut in the lid, and cushy socks were stuffed inside to form a bed. The bird, a beautiful medium-sized robin, had an injured wing, and there was blood on its tail feathers, which corresponded to the blood on the cat’s chest.

It seems like we have to relearn this lesson all over again each spring. Don’t let the cat outside. I forget over and over again that our sweet cuddly kitty named Morgan is an expert huntress.

My daughter placed the robin in the shoebox and found a safe haven in the garage. We decided if it survived the night, we would deliver it to WildCare in the morning.

She worried about the bird, checking on it frequently. I was touched and a little surprised that she hasn’t yet outgrown her tender heart toward animals, a tenderness that she has acted upon many times over the years, from raising tadpoles to rescuing worms from the sidewalk to persuading us to adopt the very cat who captured this bird. It was clear to me that she wasn’t using this as an excuse to avoid her homework, so I decided to stop worrying about the class project and rode out Mother Nature’s lesson with her instead.

We kept rethinking what would be best for the bird. We talked about the pros and cons of releasing it back to nature versus keeping it safe in the shoebox. She checked on it again. This time when she lifted the lid, the bird was able to jump out of the shoebox, but it wasn’t able to fly. This confirmed our decision to keep the bird in the box overnight.

We took a break to walk our dog, and when we returned, the bird had died. I found a flashlight and accompanied my daughter to the garden shed to find a shovel. She wanted to bury the robin — whom she named Fawkes — under a tree in our back yard.

As she gently placed Fawkes in the grave and said her good-byes, I made note of how her actions on behalf of the bird were so much more effortless than the research project. Life’s best lessons don’t always come from books.

And I hereby resolve to keep my cat indoors for the remainder of the season. You hear that, Miss Morgan?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

‘Kids Compose!’ program magically brings student melodies to life

by Kim Evans for the Herald-Times

It’s not every day that an elementary student has the honor of hearing a melody she wrote performed by an ensemble from one of the top music schools in the nation.

But this is Bloomington, and magical things happen here, magical things such as the “Kids Compose!” program that allowed my daughter to experience this honor last week.

Kids Compose! was started here in Bloomington in 2006 by Debbi Ponella and Ruth Boshkoff, and it is a wonderful example of the university reaching out to the community in the name of music education.

Here is how it works. In the fall, elementary school children from grades two through six are invited to submit original melodies for consideration. In my daughter’s case, she collaborated with two classmates to compose a melody on the xylophone during music class. Her music teacher, Maggie Olivo, provided support and assisted the girls with notating the melody on the page.

The winning melodies were selected and given to talented IU Jacobs School of Music composition students to arrange into fully-scored compositions. My daughter’s melody was woven into an arrangement by Max Grafe, and performed by the Indiana University Concert Band, under the direction of Paul Popiel.

This concert was last Wednesday at the Musical Arts Center for an audience of MCCSC second graders. When announcer Sally Nicholson asked how many audience members were visiting the MAC for the very first time, many small hands shot into the air. I enjoyed watching smiles appear on the faces of band members as they entered the stage and looked out at their young audience. Throughout the concert, the audience members squirmed and moved in their seats but remained quiet and attentive to the performance. I was impressed at the efforts of students and teachers to maintain a respectful atmosphere for the hour-long performance.

My daughter and her good friend/musical collaborator sat patiently in anticipation of hearing their melody. After an excellent performance of symphonic repertoire, the Kids Compose! portion began. The winning composers were invited to the stage to meet their arrangers and hear how they adapted their melody into a full piece.

After the composition students briefly described the creative process behind their arrangements, the melodies for each piece were played in their original form by a solo instrumentalist. Then the full ensemble played the piece as arranged by the composition student. It was fun for my daughter to hear her melody played on the tuba, then jazzed up for the band arrangement.

I’m not sure if the significance of this experience has fully sunk in with my daughter yet. It’s easy to forget that we have a world-class music school in our back yard. I can’t count how many times my husband and I, both products of public school music programs, and in my husband’s case, a Jacobs School graduate, have sworn to attend more musical events at IU, so many of which are free.

But it is nice to know programs such as Kids Compose! exist and have managed to escape the budget cuts that are plaguing arts education. Special thanks go out to all involved in this program: Dean Gwyn Richards from the Jacobs School of Music; Ruth Boshkoff and Debbi Ponella, program coordinators; Max Grafe, IU composition student; Paul Popiel and the IU Concert Band; and Maggie Olivo, music teacher at University Elementary school.