The Wide World of Music Comes to Ward Elementary
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
APRIL 7, 2021 – Tonya Allison has been teaching music for going on 30 years. For the past seven years, she has working with students at Ward Elementary.
Every year, Allison strives to grow as a teacher and to find new ways to serve her students. At the beginning of this school year, she was thinking about ways to help students think about music from different perspectives and about music as something that can inspire and touch you throughout your life.
“One of my goals this year was to give students a more culturally diverse look at music and musicians,” Allison said.
With that in mind, she began thinking about people to invite to visit remotely with her students.
She already personally knew many people with a deep love of music.
One was Nia Franklin, a composer/vocalist who was Miss America 2019. Her mother, Kristi Franklin, teaches at Ward and Nia Franklin interned with Allison through the AmeriCorps program while she was working on her master’s degree at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
Another was Anne Saxon, the Founder and Managing Artistic Director & Conductor of the Winston-Salem Girls Chorus.
Savalas Squire is a professional musician who had a child at Ward Elementary at one time.
A couple of the people she wanted to invite attended the same high school she did.
Some were simply people she thought would be good to have speak with her students, and she approached them via Facebook or in some other way.
Eventually about 20 people agreed to visit with her students one school day during the month of March. Some were professional musicians. Some were choir directors. Some were fellow WS/FCS teachers. Some were college professors.
So her students would be hearing about music from a number of perspectives.
Students would also be learning more about many different instruments – piano, flute, xylophone, ukulele, tuba, bagpipes, percussion.
Although most people she invited live around here, not all do. One lives in Virginia. Another lives in California.
The plan was for them to visit with fourth-graders and fifth-graders at Ward. As it worked out, the demands of one musician’s schedule meant that he would be meeting with second-graders.
One question that Allison wanted every person to answer was “How has music transformed you?”
Visitors also answered questions that students had come up with before the visit.
Those included such questions as:
“Where did you learn to play your instrument?” and “What obstacles did you have to overcome?”
The visitors were quite open with the students. One guest talked about being an orphan and having his adoptive parents take him to church where he learned to play the organ.
One of Allison’s goals was to have students come to see that don’t have to become a music major to for music to always be an important part of your life.
“It can be a lifelong experience,” she said.
And she thinks the experiences students had did that.
“I think I was able to show you can appreciate music at any age,” Allison said.
The musical adventure proved to be rewarding not only for students but also for Allison.
The first guest was Anne Saxon. After she spoke with students, she played “Greensleeves” on the piano.
After she finished, a fourth-grade named Frank said, “I really liked your piano playing – it touched my soul. I would like to learn how to play the piano just like you.”
Hearing those words meant a lot to Allison.
“My heart was full hearing those words on Day One of this journey!!!” she said.
Many other positive experiences followed.
John Jacobson, who is a musician and choreographer, taught students how to dance to one of his songs.
“We were so excited to see him,” Allison said.
“He taught us the entire choreography to his song, ‘Music Rocks,’ in about 5 minutes!!! And then we performed the whole thing with him! It was amazing!!”
“Another thing that he said that I thought was important was ‘I'm really proud of how everybody was working hard at that and trying your best. So thank you very much. It's so much fun to be a teacher when people are really trying, isn't it?’”
“He told us something that not a lot of people know about - and showed us his hearing aids. I didn’t know he wore those. He told us it has been extremely hard for him with people wearing masks, because he reads lips and so he has trouble hearing what people are saying. But that is something that he must work to overcome.”
A song that came up during the visit by one guest was “A Pocketful of Sunshine.”
To Allison’s delight, she later heard a student singing it as the student walked down the hall at school.
The people who visited with Allison and her students included:
Savalas Squire, sociologist and professional musician, former Ward parent.
Dr. Daniel Johnson, a Professor of Music at UNC Wilmington who plays tuba and bagpipes.
Nikkia Young, vocalist and supporter of the Richmond Symphony in Virginia.
Anne Saxon, Winston Salem Girls Chorus, pianist/vocalist/conductor.
Dr. Christopher Gilliam - Choral Director at Wake Forest University.
Nia Franklin, Miss America 2019, composer/vocalist.
John Jacobson - choreographer/composer/musician. Founder and volunteer president of America Sings! Inc., a non-profit organization that encourages young performers to use their time and talents for community service.
Dr. Jose Rivera - UNC Pembroke professor, Latin Music expertise.
Bo Reece - Coordinating Teacher for the Arts in Wake County Schools, flute player.
Dr. Lindsay Leach Sparks – WS/FCS Virtual Academy orchestra teacher/jazz studies professor at Rutgers University and elsewhere.
Barbara Bell - Orchestra teacher at West Forsyth High and Clemmons Middle.
Ron Forsh - Band teacher at Clemmons Middle.
336.727.2696 Ext. 70114