District 153’s long-time music program thrives with parents’ support

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District 153’s long-time music program thrives with parents’ support

July 08, 2017 - 09:45
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  Members of the violin section of the James Hart
  Orchestra get in tone before a performance. 

  (Photo by Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
 
Homewood schools have a remarkable 65 years-plus history in the annals of music education earning recognition for its programs. Parent support has been a key to keeping the programs going for so long.
 
In the first half of the 20th century, schools generally made music education a Friday afternoon activity with a classroom teacher leading children in song.
 
Things changed after World War II. Musicians and others realized music needed to be taught by specialists. Colleges began offering a music education curriculum to train music teachers. 
 
In Homewood, the catalyst behind the music program was William Luke, who was hired by District 153 in 1950. 
 
  Members of the James Hart
  School Orchestra cello
  section prepare for a
  program.
(Photo by 
  Marilyn Thomas/H-F 
  Chronicle)
 
Luke, a new college graduate trained in the new ways of teaching music, came to Homewood as a general music teacher, but he set his sights on something bigger and better, he recalled.  Over time, he was named the choral director and eventually the music coordinator. Luke said on a District 153 historical recording that he built the program to include vocal, band and orchestral training.
 
The district’s programs became one of the leading school music programs in the state. Luke had Homewood children perform at the American Choral Directors Regional Meeting, at the University of Illinois, at the Illinois Music Educators dinner and other places.
 
“He realized he was hired for singing, but he also knew that to build a strong music program he needed band and he needed orchestra and within four to five years he made sure the district hired fabulous band and orchestra directors,” said Adrienne Olsen, Hart School’s choral director, who was a District 153 student under Luke.
 
Luke put together the Parent Music Association (PMA). Today it is the oldest continuous middle school parents music support group in the state. Currently it has 143 members.
 
  Bill Luke says a few words 
  after being inducted into 
  the Homewood Hall of Fame 
  in October 2014.
(Chronicle 
  file photo)
 
He realized that if he didn’t have a parent group supporting this music program he was building, the district could reduce it citing budget restraints. To Luke’s way of thinking, PMA wouldn’t allow cuts to the music program, Olsen said. 

In 2014, the village honored Luke for his contributions to music education by inducting him into the Homewood Hall of Fame.
 
“When funds are tight, the first thing you cut is what isn’t mandated and cut that teacher’s salary,” she explained. “Our program has never stopped. We are on curriculum as an academic class same as (the students) get for science and math.” 
 
District 153 has seven music teachers on staff: Dana Galos, Cindy Gdalman, Matt Johnson, Emily Kasper, Adrienne Olsen, Kimberly Tallungan and Sara White.
 
PMA’s original mission was to raise money to send kids to Illinois Summer Youth Music Camp at the University of Illinois. It still does that. Seventh graders selected for the 2017 camp are receiving half-scholarships. Students are band members Kaitlyn Bolton-Shannon and Bill Colton; choir members Drew Bingham, Bianca Esparza, Aaron Latman, Grace Opyd and Ellie Wojcikowski; and orchestra member Bradley Levant.
 
PMA also supports the music program from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. It pays for accompanists for the choir programs. It’s helped purchase new instruments, such as a set of African drums for Willow School, and a shared cost on a new timpani drum set for the band. PMA has covered the cost of uniforms and supports the music teachers’ wish list. 
 
Fundraisers are continuous, said Patti Pohtre, president of PMA. The biggest fundraiser is a spring candy sale, and the group sells candy bars at every concert. Magazine sales go on all year, and the kids sell coupons for DeltaSonic car washes.
 
“I'm really proud that we have found a way to keep music in our curriculum for all students as it enhances their ability to learn across all subject levels,” said District 153 School Board President Shelly Marks. “Music has been shown to improve students’ understanding of math and language and to improve listening skills. 
 
“Music is such an important part of our lives; we use music to relax and to motivate and it unifies us as citizens. It's important that our students learn patriotic music, music from different cultures and are exposed to different styles of music,” Marks said.
  Hart School Choir Director Adrienne Olsen, standing
  left, directs a spring program rehearsal.
(Provided 
  photo)