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School music program culminated with June 13 performance

June 18, 2014 |

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – Onstage at Van Sickle Middle School, Jo Sallins is giving a group of young musicians instructions.

“Watch me,” he said while playing a chord on a keyboard. He cues a student who strikes a gong that begins a Middle Eastern composition.

Sallins, a musician and teacher, has been working with Laurie Simpson-Plouffe, the school’s chair of the Department of Fine Arts, on the performance, which she explained to Reminder Publications was going to the culmination of the school’s music program with a performance on June 13.

Simpson-Plouffe said the decision to explore Middle Eastern musical traditions was part of a broader approach to learning. She explained that studying music has shown to help students in math and critical thinking. 

She was inspired by her own trip to Egypt to bring Middle Eastern music to the band program.

She observed when in Egypt that “music was always a celebration.”

She contacted Sallins, who wrote an original composition for her 75 band students.

The performances tested their musical skills as she noted, “They’ve never done the music before and learned it this week.”

Following the concert the students participated in an exercise of reflection and writing about what the music meant to them, which Simpson-Plouffe explained strengthens their literacy skills.

The Middle Eastern music was also tied to an understanding of the geography of the region, she said.

She hopes the exploration of the music of a different culture will give the students “a more global, open-minded view of the world.”

She added the students appreciated working with Sallins. He is a graduate of Van Sickle, whom she called “a positive role model.”

Simpson-Plouffe said the special performance was also part of her effort to grow the number of students involved in the school’s band program.

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