February 6, 2010
Cortland High plans honors music program
Courses beginning next fall will offer juniors, seniors opportunity for more rigorous study
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland Junior-Senior High School music teacher Paul Feissner puts music students through their paces during violin lessons Wednesday afternoon. Students are, left to right, Teddy Pristach, Michaela Pace and Justine Chu.
Maddie Dorward, Aaron Kriever and Dan Moss love music enough that they plan to either major in music in college or at least continue to play their respective instruments for years to come.
Now the three sophomores at Cortland Junior-Senior High School are looking forward to next fall, when the school begins an honors music program for juniors and seniors.
The classes will involve more work than the usual music course, but will reward students with a weighted grade that counts more in their grade point average. It will also give them more of a chance to explore music through research papers and performance reviews, and prepare them more for all-county or all-state competitions.
Students will audition for the program, which offers three courses: band, orchestra and chorus.
“It’s a really interesting and new idea,” said Dorward, a trumpet player who has been studying the instrument since third grade at Barry Elementary School.
Kriever, also a trumpet player, and Moss, who plays trombone, said they agreed.
The city Board of Education approved the program Jan. 12, after it was developed in the fall by the five music teachers at the high school, with student input.
Teachers Rick Eleck and Kim Sanderson said they had developed a course for beginners or students who enjoy music but are not highly skilled, after being asked to do so by Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring.
Eleck asked Spring if they could create a program for students who really excelled. He liked the idea.
“Kids at the highest level do a lot of extra work,” Eleck said, “with solos and activities, but they were getting the same amount of credit as the other students. With honors courses in other subjects, students did more work and got credit for it.”
Sanderson said the program will provide a greater reward for music students who want to achieve. The teachers said students were choosing to take honors courses in sciences, to boost their grade point averages, because a music course did not reward them in the same way for their efforts.
“Students told us they would stay in band class but they were sacrificing their average,” Eleck said. “They were looking for recognition for the amount of time they were putting in. There’s a lot of practice and solo work if you enter the county or state festivals.”
The school already has either honors courses or accelerated courses in math, science and other humanities besides music.
“This course is a bridge between where we are and where we want to be,” Spring said. “It’s a step toward an Advanced Placement course in music.”
For extra credit, music students now write one review per year of a college or professional performance, such as Broadway shows, Syracuse Symphony concerts or the current production of “Wicked” in Syracuse.
In the honors course, they will write two reviews and a faculty-guided research paper, and perform a faculty-guided recital. The grade will be multiplied by 0.05 to give it extra weight, as with other honors courses.
Eleck said the honors course was originally planned for 2011-12, but Executive Principal Gregory Santoro wanted to prepare it for next fall.
The department has other projects coming up. A concert later this month by school and community music groups will benefit Haiti relief efforts, following the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed thousands of people.
The department is also commissioning a work this spring, to be performed by its symphonic orchestra and concert choir students at New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in the spring of 2012. The department previously commissioned works in 1997 and 2003.
Dorward said she probably will not major in music in college but wants to play the trumpet through college and afterward. Kriever might major in music.
Moss, who plays the trombone, said he definitely wants to major in music.
So the honors music course comes along at an opportune time.
“I wasn’t sure what this was going to be at first, but then I got excited,” Kriever said.
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