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Enriching Music Education

by The Wall Street Journal

Edmund Schroeder has given music classes to tens of thousands of disadvantaged New York City schoolchildren.

Twenty years ago, Mr. Schroeder co-founded Education Through Music, a nonprofit that forms partnerships with elementary and middle schools that wouldn’t otherwise be able to offer music lessons. The idea is to use music as a catalyst to boost student achievement in all areas, not just the arts, and Mr. Schroeder has donated more than $200,000 toward the cause.

Mr. Schroeder first conceived of the idea for Education Through Music after reading an article about St. Augustine School of the Arts, a once-failing school in the South Bronx that had revitalized itself through a music program that the school instituted in a last-ditch effort just to keep its doors open.

The experimental program, with backers that included Leonard Bernstein, had some surprising results. Not only did the children become better musicians, their performance in all subject areas shot up.

When Mr. Schroeder read about the school, he and co-founder Eldon Mayer Jr. wondered if its success could be replicated on a broader scale. “We were concerned about the low level of education kids were receiving generally,” Mr. Schroeder says. Too many schools had little or no music education, especially in poorer districts.

So one school at a time, Messrs. Schroeder and Mayer set out to copy the model. “It was a bit of trial and error at first,” Mr. Schroeder says, but he cobbled together a pilot program at Sacred Heart school in Mt. Vernon, N.Y. A 1994 Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education provided early vindication the approach was working—children were more engaged and test scores were up.

Today, the organization employs more than 30 “teaching artists” and reaches 13,000 New York schoolchildren a year, with affiliates in San Francisco and Los Angeles serving another 6,000. Education Through Music has provided consulting services to school districts in New Haven, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Mr. Schroeder recently retired from a 50-year career practicing law and says he’s been glad to hand the project over to full-time professionals. “The work I did on this was pretty much nights and weekends.”

While Mr. Schroeder took piano lessons as a child and has sung in several choirs as an adult, he’s strictly an amateur. “I didn’t play the piano, I played with the piano,” he says.

The key to the program’s success, Mr. Schroeder says, is close coordination between the music program and the rest of the curriculum. At the same time as children divide fractions in their math classes, for example, they’ll focus on notation during music class, learning how beats can be further subdivided. Younger students might sing songs from the American Revolution while they learn about it in history class.

All cognitive bolstering aside, Mr. Schroeder says music class can have other lessons for youngsters. “If you really work at something, you can do it.”

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