As a young person growing up in St. Albans, I was fortunate to be surrounded by quality arts opportunities.
I began my music career by singing in church choirs, then once old enough, I chose to play trombone in our elementary school band program. Throughout my public school experience, I was fortunate to be able to engage with music in a meaningful way.
In 1991, I entered West Virginia University as a freshman music education student. It was a wonderful time to be a music student, when the World Music Center at the WVU College of Creative Arts was in full swing. I experienced playing in world-class percussion groups — including the African and Gamelan Ensembles, traditional percussion ensembles — and was able to perform some of the finest masterworks with the WVU Choirs.
Although I was a music student, I also benefited from the visual arts, dance and theater departments housed with the Creative Arts Center. There were always recitals to attend, gallery exhibits to explore and a general atmosphere that celebrated creativity.
As I began my first job as an elementary music teacher in Kanawha County Schools, I knew I had a mission ahead of me, and it was to give my students an appreciation and love for music that they could carry with them their entire lives. Though a challenging goal, former students will still often tell me something they remember about my music class many years later. Some even tell me I gave them their musical start!
I am honored by these comments, but more importantly, I am honored I was able to share the true power of music and the arts with these young people, and that it made a difference in their lives.
As we fast-forward to today, I still am able to witness the power of the arts in young people’s lives. I have the pleasure of serving as the fine arts curriculum specialist for Kanawha County Schools. Through my work in the schools, I witness students practicing creativity across all grade levels and geographic areas of our district.
For example, just in the last week, I’ve witnessed kindergarten students learning how to mix and paint with watercolors, upper elementary students learning a traditional Appalachian folk dance, middle school students learning the basics of playing ukuleles, and high school students developing their senior art portfolios in order to demonstrate their skills to potential employers and schools after graduation. These observations are merely a sample of the many ways in which our young people are interacting with the arts on a day-to-day basis in our local schools.
The arts are sometimes called the “conduit to the soul,” and the study of the arts is credited with helping us understand what makes us human. I recently happened on an interview where it was mentioned that many tech companies are now looking for new hires with degrees and experience in the arts and humanities. The reason given for this trend was that firms want their tech products (apps, etc.) to have a human element in the hope that people will want to interact with them, and consequently purchase the product.
Often we just don’t consider the multiple connections that exist between the tech/science world and the arts world, and just how interrelated these areas can be. I found this revelation enlightening and encouraging.
Involvement in the arts teaches our next generation to think creatively. Certainly, the world needs creative thinkers who understand there are multiple ways to reach a goal. The job force is ready for creative-thinking individuals who understand what it means to be connected to our humanity, while advancing the world for the greater good. Study of, and involvement in, the arts can change a student’s life. It certainly did mine.