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Music lessons never end at Indy charter school
You expect to hear first-graders singing their ABC’s or maybe “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
But not at the Tindley Genesis Academy. Here, in a multipurpose room, 6- and 7-year-olds gleefully sing a song from Jacques Offenbach’s comic operetta “Orpheus in the Underworld.” It’s just a typical Monday afternoon.
While some schools are cutting back music classes, Tindley Genesis in Indianapolis brings them center stage. The Northside charter school that opened this fall has a completely music-based curriculum for kindergarten to Grade 3.
Students at Tindley Genesis, the newest member of the Tindley Accelerated School charter network, receive four music classes a week: a general music class, a performing arts class, a world drumming class and piano lessons. Through these courses, Tindley Genesis hopes to foster better eye contact, stage presence, vocal projection and self-confidence.
Music continues in math, science and reading. Teachers recite raps to help students remember the seasons and “times” tables. Basic reading is taught through drumming.
Todd Hawks, former high school music teacher and principal at another Tindley elementary, developed the school’s music-centered foundation last year. He spoke with music educators, visited schools and extensively researched the academic benefits of the arts. Tindley Genesis, with Hawks at the helm, opened this year with 145 students, and plans to expand to Grade 4 for the 2016-17 school year.
Tindley Genesis may be the only school of its kind in Indiana, but studies have shown the importance of arts education.
According to a 2012 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, students of low socioeconomic backgrounds with in-depth arts involvement had higher levels of college enrollment, higher career aspirations and more civic engagement than those with less arts participation. Nearly nine out of 10 Tindley Genesis students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.
For many public schools, math and English are given top priority because of standardized testing.
“Most people think, ‘How do we do better in reading and math? We need more reading and math instruction,’” Hawkes said. “We believe we need to make the instruction that we have more engaging and more fun for students, so they do remember it.”
Dorothea Davis’ daughter Olivia is a second-grader at Tindley Genesis.
“My daughter may not be interested in reciting the Bill of Rights verbatim. But if you set it to music, she will sing the exact words all day long. She has experienced French, Swahili, German, learning to read, do math and science, etc., through music,” she said.
Tindley Genesis has partnerships with local arts organizations, a key part of their musical mission. The school partnered with the Indianapolis Opera for an after-school program led by the company’s artists in residence. Six- and 7-year-olds learned how to use props, mirror movements and became familiar with operatic songs.
“We were all pleasantly surprised with the already present musical aptitude of these kids,” said Allison Nicholas, one of the opera’s resident artists. “They enthusiastically embraced pretty much all of the concepts we’ve presented.”
Unlike many arts education partnerships, the opera’s after-school activities at Tindley Genesis were not just about cultivating future opera-goers.
“Maybe the next great jazz pianist is in there,” said Kevin Patterson, general director for the opera. “Maybe the next great computer coder is in there. Fundamentally, if we can inspire the kids in that room to use creative thinking as a means to become more educated and inspired, then I think that’s what our role is.”
Hawks hopes Tindley Genesis will be a hub for the arts in the city and that more organizations will come on board to provide learning opportunities for students.
“We are always about sharing what we know and what we learn because it’s not about our kids. It’s about all kids.”
Tyler Dague is a 2015 Arts Journalism Fellow. The fellowship, funded partially by a National Endowment for the Arts grant, is a partnership between the Arts Council of Indianapolis and The Star.
Pinocchio transformed from puppet to boy at Tindley Genesis School, and along the way to this performance featuring Indianapolis Opera Resident Artists, a chorus of Tindley first and second graders underwent their own transformation.
“This is my first time with opera,” reported Jobria. “I’m in modeling,” she replied matter-of-factly when I told her she seemed very poised performing.
Efrain, on the other hand, said, “I’m used to opera now.”
Both Tindley students participated in an afterschool program that took place this fall in correlation with the Indianapolis Opera. Over the past few months 20 students of Tindley Genesis worked with the opera’s resident artists on “vocal production, expression, and general theatrical conventions of character development and storytelling.”
“I am proud of this introspective child coming out of her shell,” said Carol Baker, Indianapolis Opera’s director of community engagement.
Music is at the core of the Tindley Genesis curriculum with an emphasis on world drumming and singing and the performing arts. General music and piano competency add to the underlying concept that engagement with music and related arts empower students to perform well across the curriculum.
Learning to work as an ensemble and awaiting their turn “off-stage” to perform was a special part of the IO residency for this group of first and second graders. It was obvious that each child had in some way become an integral part of the troupe. They took turns to hug Baker, who was their chorus master and each of the five IO professionals. But kids are kids and after the audience of the rest of the Tindley School population filed out as silently as they had filed in, getting to “play” with the props and feel the fabric of the costumes was the special treat.
“The work that our scholars get to do with the Indianapolis Opera is phenomenal,” said Todd Hawks, Principal of Tindley Genesis, in a released statement. “Seeing professionals in the field working alongside our young students is incredible. I am thrilled at the work that is being done and excited to see all of the amazing things our scholars will accomplish through work with IO.”
Before taking on the role of principal, Butler and IU graduate Hawks “served as a music teacher for eight years,” he told me when we met on Oct. 7.
“Indianapolis Opera considers our partnership with Tindley Genesis to be an invaluable part of our Resident Art training program,” said Kevin Patterson, IO general director. “Being able to reach out to young students at Tindley by bringing young professionals into the classroom is exciting. We appreciate the progressive approach that Tindley Genesis has undertaken in arts education and look forward to more collaborative opportunities.”
Baker pointed out that the residency is equally important to the young professionals. “With their college training they learned to navigate on stages as performers. But they also need to learn how to interact with the community [off stage] and share the art of opera and their artistry with children.”
IO resident artists represent a wide range of training and pre-professional and professional experiences. Soprano Allison Nicholas is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Feigenbaum is a BM and MM graduate of Northwestern University. Tenor Nathanael Hein, currently completing his Performers Diploma at Jacobs School of Music, earned a Master’s Degree from The Cleveland Institute of Music and a Bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University, Baritone Jacob Pence has been active in young artist programs and has performed roles in numerous operatic productions. Pianist/Coach Allegra Sorley holds a Master of Music degree in Piano Performance from Ohio University and Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance from Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts
The stage director of Pinocchio, Ty Stover, has a history of engaging youthful audiences. His on-the-mark staging made pratfalls perfectly plausible and rightful comeuppance for anyone taking advantage of a “boy” whose start as a puppet didn’t equip him with street smarts.
“As the original multi-media art form, opera is a total immersion experience relaying stories that define and shape our humanity,” said Baker. “While the stage is a world forum for engagement and communication, the classroom is an intimate setting nurturing the development of 21st century learning skills of critical thinking and problem solving; communication; collaboration; and creativity and innovation.”
John Davies’ operatic adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio showcased music from the operas of W.A. Mozart, G. Donizetti, J. Offenbach and G.B. Pergolesi.
Tindley Genesis was recently mentioned in an article detailing our music-focused approach.
Check it out here!