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Posted August 22, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

A new song: Music, band director offers more options to students

By Elizabeth Wilkerson - ewilkerson@nvdaily.com

Matt Smith, right, the new music teacher at Valley Baptist Christian School in Edinburg, helps new clarinet student Randie Ross, 16, assemble her instrument. Photos by Dennis Grundman/Daily

Smith organizes sheet music in his new office recently. Besides religious music, he intends to teach his students classical and folk music.

Smith practices piano in the Valley Baptist Christian School. He plans to introduce new music classes to pupils.

EDINBURG -- For Valley Baptist Christian School, the current recession proved to be the right time to expand its music program.

For the first time, the school, at 408 Stony Creek Road, will have a full-time music and band teacher this year. Principal Jeff Fauver said the school decided now was the time to expand the program for two main reasons: the availability of Matt Smith, the new music teacher, and the level of talent in the student body.

"Personality-wise, [Smith] fits right in with the students, and then, academically, he's got plenty of credentials for us," Fauver said. The school, which has about 70 pupils in kindergarten through 12th grade, competes in the Old Dominion Association of Church Schools competitions, he said.

Students have done very well in the singing and piano events, he said, but, "we just haven't had the teacher to take the students [in the band] to the next level, and there's plenty of talent in the student body."

The expansion of the music program will give students more opportunities to excel, Fauver said.

Smith was born and raised in Louisville, Ky., and he grew up watching his father, also a music teacher, give music lessons and repair instruments, he said.

"From the earliest age that I can remember, it was going with him to music practice or coming back from marching band practice," Smith said. Though he had teachers who enticed him to move toward a career in performance, he saw, through his father's interactions with past students, "the tradition in the community of music lessons and band practices," he said.

Smith earned his undergraduate degree at a Baptist college in the Louisville area, and then taught general music, band and choir at a Christian grade school, he said. After his first year of teaching, he earned a master's degree in church music from the Pensacola Theological Seminary and taught several classes, including fundamental music theory, fundamental conducting and music pedagogy, at his undergraduate alma mater, he said.

After teaching at the college in the morning, Smith led classes at the Christian grade school in the afternoon, he said.

At Valley Baptist Christian School, Smith will teach general music for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, band for upper elementary, middle and high school students and choir for high school students. He'll also offer private piano, voice and organ lessons, he said.

Along with Christian music, students will hear and learn about the origins of and stories behind folk and classical music, he said.

"One thing that is exciting for me is introducing them to the fact that all classical music isn't boring," Smith said.

One of the music program's main goals this year will be to raise money to purchase a set of hand bells, he said. Then, as it gets going in the next year or two, Smith said, he'd like to add a music theory class, which will "help students really get ready to succeed in their music classes at college."

Students who take music tend to excel academically, Fauver said. Both Fauver and Smith noted the link between studying music and success in math in school.

Music education gives students "one more tool in their belt, one more option when it's time to go to college," Smith said.

"It's an all-around-win situation as an administrator," Fauver said.

The administration wants all third- through fifth-graders to be in band classes, Smith said. That age "seems to be the prime target for exposing kids to a variety of musical instruments," he said, because, within that time frame, they can usually find an instrument they like.

Since it's a Christian school, Smith said, his biggest goal is that pupils can use the skills they learn in his classes to help in the music at their church. He also wants pupils "to really enjoy music" and have it "as an option ... to pursue so they don't feel like it's out of reach," he said.

As many schools make cuts to balance budgets, it's often art departments that "have to take that hit," Smith said.

"Music is one of the earliest forms of expression, and if you start to cut away at the creative side of education," school becomes boring or monotonous, he said.

Fauver said the recession really hasn't hit the school, and its student body is the same size as last year's. The school hopes to incorporate stringed instruments into the music program next year as Smith's wife, who is Fauver's daughter, has a background in those instruments, he said.

"It's not offered frequently, and that's part of our advantage," he said. Because Valley Baptist Christian School's student body is small, "everybody gets to achieve," he said.

"The same students that compete in basketball compete in fine arts," he said. "So they get a really good, diverse education."

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