Joe Rowling, LJCDS Middle School orchestra educator, loves teaching middle schoolers because they are funny, a little crazy, and very willing to try new things. “I get to start most of them playing their first instrument. Watching them grow from knowing nothing to learning how to hold the instrument, to making their first sounds, starting to read music, and then seeing them working together and playing songs. That progress is what keeps me going.”
Mr. Rowling emphasizes that he never hears dissonance in his students’ music. “I’m always hearing the improvement,” he says. “What are they doing better than they’ve done before?”
In fifth and sixth grade, all LJCDS students are required to take an instrument in either the band or orchestra class, depending on their instrument of choice. The orchestra group works with string instruments—violin, viola, cello, bass—and the band class has woodwinds, brass and percussion. In seventh and eighth grade, music is optional, and students may choose to continue with the instruments, vocal music or both.
Music teaches students important life skills that translate outside of the classroom, explains Mr. Rowling. “When you're working on something new, it’s difficult,” he shares. “That’s one of the things music is great for; to teach that when something’s hard, don’t give up. Work through it until you get it.”
Another soft skill learned in music is the ability to work well with others. Mr. Rowling tells his students, “If you do everything perfectly, that doesn’t necessarily mean our music will turn out perfectly. We need to work with everyone else to make sure that all the parts fit together. Everyone’s part of the group; everyone matters.”
Mr. Rowling strives to create an experience for his students that is both fun and memorable. He chooses music that reflects different cultures and perspectives, including pop music to help students connect with the material. One class is currently playing a song from an Ecuadorian composer describing a mountain range there. They looked at photos of the mountain range and discussed the location and its people. According to Rowling, “Music is a way to look into the culture of a place. Even if there are no words to a song, you get the feeling and emotion behind it. There’s something unique and special about music from each country and each culture.”
Mr. Rowling whose lifelong passion for music began at age 6 playing piano, has always been an advocate of music education—but not to make all his students professional musicians. “I know some might pursue that, but most probably won’t,” he shares. “I want them to at least gain an appreciation for the process of making music so that in the future they could be good supporters of music and the arts, and recognize the importance of its contributions to society.”