THE NEW HAMPSHIRE MUSIC FESTIVAL EDUCATION PROGRAM
A survey of all Lakes region school districts reveals that the Music Festival formerly presented musical programs in some area public schools but has not done so for the past two or three years in most of those schools. Attempts to confirm this with the Festival were unsuccessful.
The musical program presented to students in the area’s public schools was replaced with the “Three R Program”, described as a “music-in-education” approach in two private preschools and in four classrooms at the Gilford Elementary School.
That program is primarily aimed at very young preschool children, ages 2-4 with 20 minute weekly preschool sessions presented by Festival Development Officer, Deborah Graham. They comprise the bulk of the Festival’s “130 year-round classroom activities in the region’s schools.”
The Festival conducts several grant-funded brass quintet concerts in other areas of the state during the year.
Those Festival donors who believed that their contributions were used to support musical programs in the local area public schools have been mistaken in recent years.
Those responsible for the Festival’s governance and management have not been entirely forthcoming in their approach and communication about the Festival’s Education Program.
NHMF Education Program Survey
For many years, the NH Music Festival presented musical programs in some of the Lakes region’s public schools. Those programs were varied and enthusiastically received by those schools. The presentation of music education programs was in keeping with a significant portion of the Festival’s purpose, described in its bylaws:
“The purpose of the corporation shall be to foster high quality music and
music education programs throughout the year.” (Article 1, #2.)
At the same approximate time that the Festival’s management began to reveal plans to change the character, format and makeup of its summer concert programs, they also made significant changes in the music education program. These changes occurred quietly, without public announcements or discussion. In effect, the Festival appears to have abandoned its long-time musical programs with the area’s public schools while stating at the same time in the 2009 program booklet:
“As part of its educational work, the Festival sponsors 100 events throughout
the year working with area schools.”
That accuracy of that statement was put to measure by checking with area schools. The following School Administrative Units (SAU’s), representing all public schools within 31 wide-ranging Lakes region communities, were contacted to ascertain the extent of the NHMF Education Program offerings in their schools within the past few years. Teachers and administrators at various grade levels within the school districts responded. Some responded by telephone, most by email. No attempt was made to contact all 54 individual schools within the several school districts. Those who responded, however, provided very similar information to describe the common experience that follows.
While this effort was underway, a request for the same information to assure accuracy was made in writing to the Festival through its Board of Directors. The request, sent by a long time Festival patron, supporter and volunteer, was never responded to nor acknowledged. That same patron attempted to speak with a member of the Festival’s Board about this matter but was rebuffed. A later request for educational program information was also sent to the Festival’s Community Development Officer, Mrs. Deborah Graham.
SAU #2, 103 Main St., Ste 2, Meredith. Towns: Center Harbor, Meredith, Sandwich, Ashland.
“They used to have a program that had musicians come around to schools and do a performance/talk with students and that was a great program. That was a few years ago. That program is not still offered, but they do have some sort of outreach program. But I have not heard about that or looked into it.”
“We used to get at least three music festival programs a year, sometimes even four. Great programs! We always appreciated them. Last year we didn’t get any and we missed them. The year before that they replaced all concerts with Walter Cunningham, whom we loved, but we didn’t get any others.”
“We miss these programs and hope someday to get them back in the schools again.”
One respondent gave a very complete historical picture of his school’s education program experience by listing the programs.
“For several years, we usually had two guest artists from the NH Music Festival. In 2007-08, we voluntarily gave up having artists so that Inter-Lakes Elementary School could take our ‘slot’. We had hoped this would not be a permanent situation and would welcome having artists from the NH Music Festival back in the school! Here’s who we had over the years – though I may have one or two artists listed in the wrong school year.
2001-02: Ju-Young Baek, violin; Stephen Mayer.
2002-03: Kevin Deas, bass-baritone; Amdrius Zlabys, piano.
2004-05: Mark Whitfield, jazz guitar trio; Grace Fong, piano; RPM String
2005-06: Grace Fong, piano; Walter Blanding Quartet.
2006-07: Alex Slobodyanik, piano; Kevin Deas, bass-baritone; Adrian
2009-10: None scheduled, but we’d love to have some.”
SAU #48, 47 Old Ward Bridge Rd., Plymouth. Towns: Campton, Ellsworth, Holderness, Ashland (high school students), Plymouth, Rumney, Thornton, Waterville Valley, Wentworth.
This district reports no relationship with or programs from the NH Music Festival, except that one person worked in “some way with the Holderness Central School a couple of years ago. Our strong relationships are with Plymouth State University.”
SAU # 73, 47 Cherry Valley Rd. Town: Gilford.
‘I checked with our music department and there have not been any performances in a few years at the middle and high school.’??‘The elementary school did have Walter Cunningham visit and perform with the children once last year. The year before he visited three times and we also had a performance-visit from Jonathan Baptiste.”
The Three R program is presented to one kindergarten class, two first grade classes and a single second grade class at Gilford Elementary School.?
SAU #30, PO Box 309, Laconia. Town: Laconia.
“Although I do not have exact dates of performances, these have been truly enrichment opportunities for our students. We have (in the past) had one to two performances each year and I would always welcome them. In my opinion NHMF offers a win-win with programs like this to their budding musicians and to our students.”
The Laconia district reports receiving the following performers:
2004-05: Dmitri Levkovich, piano; Arturo Farill Trio; Pavel Ilyeshov, violin & Andrius Zlabys, piano.
2005-06: Arturo Farill Trio; Walter Blending Quartet, Maria Rudyushyna, piano;
Adrian Anantawan, violin.
2006-07: Arturo Farill Trio; Uno, Dos, Trio (string trio); Andrius Zlabys, piano;
Anantawan, violin; Walter Blanding Quartet.
2007-08: Walter Cunningham , Jonathan Batiste, piano.
SAU #45, PO Box 419, Moultonborough. Town: Moultonborough.
“I did ask our principals and music coordinators who informed me that the NH Music Festival has not provided programs in the recent past. They may have a number of years ago, but no one can remember anything specific.”
“I just wanted to let you know that for many years this group sent two or three musical offerings to our school at no charge. The quality of music was exceptional and gave our young people so many opportunities to hear live performers playing all different styles of music. These assemblies went over very well. Last year the MH Music Festival was going through all sorts of changes and they didn’t offer any programs for us. We hope that this will change for the coming year.”
“The last group to perform at Moultonborough Academy was the Arturo Farill Trio two years ago. Up to that point we had at least two or three assemblies per year of professional musicians.”
SAU #4, 20 North Main St., Bristol. Towns: Alexandria, Bridgewater, Bristol, Danbury, Groton, Hebron, New Hampton.
“We have not had any NH Music Festival programs in any of our schools within the past three years.”
SAU #59, 433 West Main St., Tilton. Towns: Northfield, Sanborton, Tilton.
“The NH Music Festival has not provided any programs for students here at Winnisquam Regional High School. I have been teaching here for five years.”
SAU #86, 56 School St., Belmont. Towns: Belmont, Canterbury.
The SAU Superintendent, a long time district employee, “could not recall that the NH Music Festival had ever provided musical programs within the district.” He emailed music teachers to ask if they remembered any performances. At the time of this writing no one had.
SAU #18, 119 Central St., Franklin. Towns: Franklin, Hill.
“We have never had any NH Music Festival programs in any of our schools. We would love to have musical programs for our students and think they would enjoy them.”
More Distant Programs
While the Festival’s Education Program survey was being conducted, it was discovered that while the Festival was eliminating musical programs in local Lakes region public schools it was conducting some programs in more distant communities. The Festival has obtained a grant for the past several years to fund a brass quintet for as many as 30 concerts annually. These concerts were not presented to local schools but were presented under the terms of the grant in such communities as Keene, Portsmouth, Salem, Manchester, Concord and Hanover.
Presented in schools for a very nominal fee, those concerts are possibly included in the count of school programs Mr. Graham recently made reference to in a Laconia Citizen article in which he stated “the Festival presents more than 160 events annually, more than 30 concerts during the summer and some 130 year-round classroom activities in the region’s schools during the school year.” It is unclear if he includes Keene, Portsmouth and Salem in his view of “the region’s schools.”
A Dramatic Program Change
The results of the survey indicate that the Music Festival used to present musical programs each year in some public schools in the area but has not done so for the past few years. Most area schools have never had any sort of Festival program. Those that did have Festival musical programs were clearly enthusiastic about the programs presented and complimentary about their quality, noting their benefit to students. Schools which had received Festival programs did not report receiving any explanation or notice of the elimination of the program from the Festival.
The NHMF website states that a change in the program was made in 2008, changing the program’s focus to very young preschool aged children. What is described on the Festival’s website as an expansion of the elementary school music program appears, in fact, to have been an abandonment of the public school music program. For a brief time, the Festival attempted a program with a purpose to improve literacy by having children write operas in three public elementary schools but ended that program a few years ago. Current building principals of those schools report that the program never had any organized evaluation to their knowledge. The Festival then turned to the “Three R” program, described as a “music in education” program, not a music program. It is not taught in any of the area’s public schools except for four classes at the Gilford Elementary School. It is also currently presented to a small number of young children in two private preschool programs.
The Festival website describes the Three R Program: “The focus with these children is on attending, pattern recognition (pre-reading), rhyming, fluency, visual tracking, pattern sequencing and spatial reasoning.” It purports to get young children “ready to learn.” While the website mentions a meeting with representatives of the Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital who were also affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Boston College and an Arizona program called Opening Minds through the Arts (OMA), it does so in a manner that seems to suggest ongoing Festival connections and affiliation with those organizations.
The current website states how important those affiliations are, saying “The connection with this research team is extremely valuable to us due to their previous research and expertise as well as the curriculum and assessment resources they have to share with us.” It is both revealing and important to note that, when recently asked, Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, M.D., Ph. D., Associate Professor of Neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, a participant in the original meeting with the Festival, stated that the organizations have no such affiliation and have had no contact since an early “conversation or two” with the Festival. The OMA program’s Assistant Director reported that a small segment of the OMA program was “presented a few years ago” but ended some time ago. The Assistant Director also reported no current affiliation with the Festival or programs in New Hampshire. The current Three R program has none of the elements of the OMA Program.
Programs at the private Laconia Early Learning Centers and Meredith Kidworks, not any part of the public school systems, are mentioned as participating. As a part of this survey, these centers were contacted. Their representatives described their program, begun this past year at Meredith Kidworks, as presented weekly by the Festival’s Community Development Officer, Deborah Graham in 20 minute sessions to small groups of preschool children, two to four years old. The program sometimes involves the use of a glockenspiel to teach rhythm and patterns and, occasionally, songs to four year old children at the Laconia Early Learning Center. Neither center had knowledge of any evaluation of the program. Contact also was made with the Gilford Elementary School. Their contact person similarly had no knowledge of any program evaluation or assessment. The program is presented without cost to the centers or the school.
It seems likely that the small program currently presented would cost considerably less than the previous music programs presented in the public schools that formerly received them. Review of financial considerations and any connection to the financial requirements of the Red Hill project might be informative about possible reasons for such a dramatic change in the Festival’s education program. It would also be informative to review reported program revenues and expenses, figures that mirror each other in the past two years, and the expenses for the Festival’s Community Development Officer whose job title would suggest a role other than preschool program instructor.
Further, this report, if accurate, would indicate that Festival donors who, after reading the Festival’s program booklets and listening to Mr. Graham’s pronouncements about the education program, believed that their contributions to the Festival were supporting a number of music programs in local area public schools. That appears no longer to be the case, even for those schools that received such programs, as well as a management overstatement when those pronouncements were touted. It seems that donors who have had that belief have been mistaken, at least in recent years. That seemingly mistaken belief is still encouraged in the November 5th Annual Fund solicitation letter from Chairman McLear and Vice Chairman Weatherbie that states: “Public schools are not able to pay for the services we provide to them that help make a real difference in the learning capabilities of children.” All public schools responding to the survey, with the single exception of four classes at the Gilford Elementary School, did not report current participation in such services. Since the Festival did not respond to the request for information, it is difficult to determine the public school services the solicitation letter mentions.
This dramatic change in an education program that was so well received by those area schools and schoolchildren that experienced them, largely hidden, not discussed in any public manner and ended without explanation to the schools is another, very troubling example of the way that the Festival’s management and Board have been conducting the Festival’s business in recent years. The Guidebook For New Hampshire Charitable Nonprofit Organizations, published by the Office of the NH Attorney General, advises members of boards of such organizations of their responsibilities, including a “duty of loyalty” and a “duty of care.” Those duties adhere not only to the organization’s purpose, but also to the manner in which the organization conducts its business and certainly to those who support the organization with their donations and long standing attendance at Festival programs. A much closer adherence by Festival Board members to their fiduciary responsibilities, far beyond simply finances, to this long-standing public nonprofit corporation and those who support it is sorely needed.
Revised: November 15, 2009, George Blaisdell