Sept. 04--ASHEBORO -- More music in schools -- not more tests.
That's how Suzanne Benhart feels about the importance of music for students. The co-director of the bands program at Asheboro High School addressed members of the Randolph Rotary on Wednesday about the value of music education and its impact on students' lives.
She said music students have higher GPAs (Grade Point Averages) and lower dropout rates. Class of 2012 SAT results showed music students' scores were above average in reading, math and writing by as high as 31 points. AHS Principal Dr. Brian Toth also reports that there aren't discipline problems with music students.
In Benhart's eight years at AHS, she said that she's found band students have been actively involved in both school and recreational league athletics as well as school service organizations. They're also student government leaders.
More than 300 of the approximately 1,300 students at AHS are involved in band and chorus programs and many others in the visual arts and drama offerings for the 2013-14 school year.
This school year's marching band has 180 members who are now focused on their non-competitive, classroom program but will be part of other performing ensembles like the symphonic wind ensemble, wind symphony, symphonic band, jazz band and percussion.
Benhart co-directs the band program with Phil Homiller who's been at AHS for 18 years. Her husband, Scott Benhart, is director of bands at North Asheboro Middle School. Susan Butler, Asheboro City Schools' 2012-13 Teacher of the Year, is band director at South Asheboro Middle School; Suzanne Benhart, as AHS Teacher of the Year, was finalist last year.
She focused on the many benefits of music education stating that "the more music children have at an early age, the smarter they will naturally be." Involvement in groups like bands and choruses instills many qualities in students by building one's confidence, esteem and knowledge along with both self-identity and group identity for their "mind, body and spirit."
She said students develop "a sense of importance where every single person matters" and that music is "a discipline that demands perfection." Using the illustration that the grading scale for an A ranges from 93-100, she noted that if a band had "seven full measures of mistakes, you wouldn't recognize the piece."
As music educators, their goal is not to create professional musicians, but to instill in the students the "joy and love of music and seeing what becomes because of it." She also stressed the importance of parents being involved with their children's music education.
Benhart decided to become a music teacher while a high school freshman. Her love of music had started as an outlet when, as a second-grader, she was behind in reading after switching schools and shunned by her classmates. Daily music classes in third grade allowed her to be able to read music, thus improving her reading skills and other subjects as well. When she had an opportunity to start taking band classes she wanted to play percussion, but her mother chose flute.
"When I made my first sound, I was hooked."
She also plays the saxophone.
She received her bachelor's degree in music education from Augustana College in Illinois where she grew up and her master's, also in music education, at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She has received many honors and is involved with community activities like the Randolph Jazz Band.
During the question and answer period, Benhart addressed an inquiry about possible effects of some less desirable music by talking about the "Mozart effect." She related that a study showed that students' scores improved after listening to a Mozart piece (Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D major) ) before testing compared to either a relaxation tape or silence. It was found that both sides of the brain were engaged, due to the Mozart music, which helped with the results.
Another question related to the full school year of band activities; Benhart said the schedule can be found on the AHS Band section of the Asheboro High School website accessible through Asheboro City Schools' website at www.asheboro.k12.nc.us.
A popular event is the upcoming Bandorama planned for Oct. 29 at the AHS Performing Arts Center. The marching band will perform its halftime and other football game music on stage.
Retired attorney Ed Gavin invited Benhart to give Wednesday's program at the Randolph Rotary Club's weekly meeting at the AVS Banquet Centre. He praised city schools' music program, noting that "music is harmony. It brings instruments and voices together to make it a beautiful noise if you want to call it noise." He's very familiar with the AHS program, having been in attendance at concerts involving his two grandsons.
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