Local piano teacher Tom Parente thinks that Montclair and other local schools have dropped the ball when it comes to music education. He remembers a 1978 Montclair High School concert that he can’t imagine today. He shared his views with Barista Kids.
Montclair, as a town of artists, creators and general right brained oriented thinkers, has for at least 20 years watched as its musical education offerings diminish steadily until we currently have a situation where we are doing the absolute minimum for our children (in some cases less).It is by no stretch of the imagination to realize that our children’s need to be creative and to learn through their ear would predominate in a town of such creativity. The research is clear on the subject-the brain needs an enormous variety of diverse sounds in order to develop properly.
As music has played an enormous part in the lives and histories of people all over the world we see and recognize how that need was met through folksong, and indigenous and spontaneous music making of every variety. The modern educational system devised largely by John Dewey recognized this great need and so, to this very day, (even now in the anti-educational age that permeates our budget cutting society) there are still extraordinary pockets of music making and resultant intelligence building in many of the great municipalities throughout the United States.
Montclair was once among these municipalities of greatness. On March 16th, 1978 the high school stage was filled with over 300 choristers and instrumentalists as the great Arthur Honegger opera, “Le Roi David”, was performed along with Poulenc’s Gloria. According to the Montclair Times review of the concert (when was the last time the Montclair times reviewed a high school concert?) “The program opened with Richard Wagner’s ‘Prelude and Liebestod’, and was played with elegance and sensitivity under Mr. McClellan’s (high school music department head William B. McClellan) precise direction”. It is interesting to note that the tenor who performed with this extraordinary ensemble comprised of high school students, town citizens and some paid professionals, was none other than the famed metropolitan opera singer, George Shirley. The Montclair Times continues, “But the night of the performance, with the auditorium packed, when that curtain opened, it was magic. White blouses, dark suits, carefully combed long silken hair, clips gray heads, old heads, Afros, shaggy heads, freshly done coifs, were side-by-side all sitting straight, still, alert, faces shining with an anticipation and experienced no shuffling, no sprawling bluejeans, no bobbing heads, no giggles — just 300 people joined in a united effort with Mac at the helm” (Berenice Grorskoff, 1978).
Can you imagine being one among those fortunate multitudes of high school students as they experienced what was surely a memorable and life altering event! Can you imagine the musical education and camaraderie, let alone the soul, mind and intelligence building, that resulted from such a mammoth effort? Can you also imagine what has gradually been lost over the last 32 years and how many young lives and minds, which could have been touched by the Montclair that was. Our age with its predominant emphasis on that which can be calculated and counted, desperately needs the creative, “thinking out of the box” minds whose neuronal synapses and souls have been touched and driven by such awesome sonic experiences. It is a well known fact that Albert Einstein, stymied in his pursuit of the next breakthrough, would often spend several hours in the kitchen of his Princeton home both improvising and practicing Mozart violin sonatas and concertos in order to provide the font of his genius – his extraordinary brain – the requisite time, space, neuronal connection and above all, inspiration to find the solution. Such a genius clearly understood, intuited and revered the essential fueling of the calculable by the divine and incalculable. Over the last 20 years, we in Montclair through thousands of small decisions having mainly to do with expediency, have been responsible for the unraveling of that which was great. It is now time to think big – again. It is now time to recognize our inherent greatness and to come together to restore or even exceed that which has, heretofore, been lost. The future curer of cancer, the next Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King or the next Leonard Bernstein may currently be here K-12. S/he needs us. We desperately need her or him.
Parente is also an associate professor of piano and voice at Westminster Choir College of Rider University.