To the Editor.
As a supporter with a long time involvement with New Hampshire Music Festival in many ways – past Board member, past participant in the Music in the Schools program, thirty year plus donor and dedicated audience member – I would also like to comment on the educational programming which the New Hampshire Music Festival currently purports to be conducting. This is not a new concern for me. Over the past four years as I listened to what the Festival publications said they were doing, and as I questioned and talked to a range of people, I was dismayed by what was clearly a contradictory picture in terms of what was being said and what was actually being done.
There are two issues which present difficulties. One is the scope of the education programming and the other are the claims made for what is now named the Three Rs pre-school classes.
Reading the letter by George Blaisdell and looking at the details of his findings confirms my deep concern that what is being told to those of us who have contributed to the Festival in part because of its educational component has little basis in fact. The educational programming is supposed to be what makes the Festival a year round program, and thus, one assumes, necessitates a full time staff of people. To say that the current “Three Rs” makes the Festival a year round program on the basis of the current slim educational offering is, as far as I can tell, inaccurate and misleading. It attempts to make a program which serves a relatively small number of children with visits from a Festival staff person sound substantive. It has no credible evaluative system in place and in fact incorrectly states a link to researchers in Boston which has no basis in fact. This is a grave misrepresentation. The description on the NHMF website also states a connection with an Arizona program, Opening Minds Through the Arts (OMA), when in fact no such connection exists and the current Three Rs program bears no resemblance whatsoever to it. In terms of other school programs, the fact that a grant goes through the Festival to provide brass ensemble concerts in an entirely different part of the state is, again, misleading in terms of serving “local area schools”. That just isn’t true.
The field of the arts in learning is the one in which I work, and I have presented and collaborated with educators, researchers and consultants who are associated with programs which are at the forefront of the arts-in-education movement . This includes OMA. Some of my colleagues are engaged in the ongoing research taking place in this field. For the Festival to make the claims which it does for the Three Rs shows a complete lack of understanding about the nature of the leading educators, teaching artists, training practitioners and institutions who lead implementation and research in using the arts in learning work throughout the US .
I’m sure there may be some very nice things that happen in the little classes Deborah Graham visits. And few doubt that exposure to the arts promotes learning. The leading researchers in the field tell us, however, that this work is in its infancy and that they are just beginning to understand why this is true and how to best design programs which incorporate the arts and tools for student growth and learning …But as someone who has worked in this area for many years, I can tell you that amongst those who are leaders in this field , there is great dismay over the kinds of simplistic claims of things like “brain development” that are made about programming that does not have a sound curriculum and does not follow accepted evaluative standards. And this is exactly what NHMF is doing.
Unlike Mr. Blaisdell I am a member of the SOON Executive Committee, but even if I were not, I would be writing this letter because I find the representation of the current music education program misleading and actually embarrassing. I hope with all my heart that more responsible and sound educational programming will be restored to this Festival to which so many of us are deeply committed. What I most deeply desire is to see NHMF advocate for music in our schools and go back to providing a rich roster of visiting musicians who provide quality programs for all the children in the region the Festival was established to serve. This would be a proper use of Festival resources and a truly worthwhile program we could all support and embrace.
Editor of federal DOE funded early childhood education resource Start with the Arts
Project Director, The Arts in Early Learning
VSA arts of New Hampshire