Music programs in diocesan schools hit all the right notes

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Carolyn Eynon Singers perform during a March 2 concert at St. Matthew School. The diocesan Katzin Classical Music Program coordinated their visit was (courtesy photo)
Carolyn Eynon Singers perform during a March 2 concert at St. Matthew School. The diocesan Katzin Classical Music Program coordinated their visit was (courtesy photo)

March is “Music in Our School” Month, but it’s a regular affair at local diocesan schools.

It’s a daily effort at 10 elementary schools thanks to the ongoing Katzin Classical Music Program. The effort exposes K-8 students to classical sounds and composer bios from the comfort of their classrooms. They spend a few minutes each day listening to classical music. It’s educational for all and calming for some. The program also enlivens lessons via on-site concerts and assemblies.

“You see very readily how intrigued our children are by these performances,” said Betsy Sherf, coordinator of the Katzin Classical Music Program.

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Katzin Classical Music Program

A privately and grant-funded effort to bring awareness and appreciation of classical music to 10 inner-city elementary schools throughout the Diocese of Phoenix

Guest performers include Carolyn Eynon Singers, Tetra String QuartetOrpheus Male Choir

Hear from the program coordinator. Cue up the 40:30 mark.

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The musicians love it too and often ask to come back because they find the students attentive and receptive. Sherf obliges, but works them in at a different campus to ensure no concert is duplicated for the entirety of a student’s K-8 experience.

Sherf said the Carolyn Eynon Singers “were dazzled at the children’s attention” during a March 2 performance at St. Gregory and St. Matthew schools. The 28-member group included vocalists, a drummer, guitarist, pianist and director.

During the fall semester, six Filipino priests in the U.S. for a goodwill tour treated St. Agnes students to a variety show featuring dancing, acting and singing. They’re eager to return next school year as they continue to raise money for seminaries in their impoverished homeland.

“Full of joy, full of their vocation, it was clearly the light of their life to be in the presence of children,” Sherf said.

The privately funded program — started by David Katzin nearly 15 years ago to broaden the educational experience and supplemented by grants — also affords students regular field trips to venues where they may not otherwise place themselves. The classical music program largely resides at inner-city schools.

“They’re familiar with the music and light up when they hear something that’s been part of their daily diet,” Sherf said.

She always catches a sparkle of recognition in their faces, sees their feet tapping and senses their fascination with an artist’s level of talent, be it through a longstanding partnership with center Dance Ensemble or through a music concert. Sometimes, the performers aren’t much older than the elementary audience members.

Students from all 10 elementary schools involved with the Katzin Classical Music program attended a Phoenix Youth Symphony performance in February. Musicians were eighth-graders and high schoolers.

“It’s so impressive to see these young people so polished,” Sherf said.

Now, students who were exposed to classical music through the diocesan outreach are giving back. The Katzin Crozier Honor Choir will make its second appearance April 9 at the Crozier Gala.

The choir features 60 Catholic high school voices singing to some of the same tunes they heard as an elementary school student through the Katzin program.

“There is pride of recognizing this beautiful music and being able to perform it,” Sherf said.

Inaugural members of Seton's Ukulele club include Quentin Hovis as president, Catalina Rojas as vice president and James Stevenson. (courtesy photo)
Inaugural members of Seton’s Ukulele club include Quentin Hovis as president, Catalina Rojas as vice president and James Stevenson. (courtesy photo)

Other elementary and high schools operate independent music programs. Seton Catholic Preparatory in Chandler just launched a ukulele club with 12 members. It supplements at least four performance-based music classes and a music computer lab.

The National Association for Music Education says such programming further develops the left side of the brain related to language and reasoning. Music performance or appreciation also correlates with higher standardized test scores, memorization skills and character.

“At Seton Catholic, we are proud of our student efforts in music and all fine arts,” Principal Pat Collins said. “When we talk about preparing a student for a future we still cannot define, Seton can say that we give students the opportunity to learn and communicate using the universal language of music.”

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