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Music in Our Schools Month: An Interview with Dorothy Kittaka

Music in Our Schools Month: An Interview with Dorothy Kittaka

“Music In Our Schools Month” is an annual celebration during March, which engages music educators, students, and communities around the country in promoting the benefits of high quality music education programs in schools. We are celebrating the month by talking to local music educators about the importance of music in our schools. Dorothy Kittaka is a teacher extraordinaire, singer and arts advocate. She is a co-founder of FAME (the Foundation for Arts and Music in Education) and the co-founder of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Fort Wayne. She organized and served as the first state chair for “Circle the State With Song”, she serves as the President of Sister Cities of Fort Wayne and she is a board member of Heartland.

Janice Furtner: “Dorothy, What is the importance of music in our schools?”

Dorothy Kittaka: “The importance of music in our schools is that we must have it! Music is in our lives as soon as we are born. There is a rhythm in our body. When the child comes out the child is crying: it's a vocal sound. As a teacher of music in Elementary, Middle and High Schools I tried to teach them that music is part of their everyday lives. They have their own instrument walking with them every day. And that’s their voice. Teachers can spark the imagination and give the students the skills to actually use that voice to sing with for the rest of their lives. That's a lifelong skill that they can use. I’m way past a lot of years here and I am still singing. And I think everyone can do this.  It’s a life long joy; music is something that they can enjoy the rest of their lives.
When I came to Fort Wayne in 1978, I taught in schools where every 20 minutes I had a different class. I had 12 classes a day. So getting even that amount of time was precious to me because otherwise they wouldn’t have it at all. The Art Specialist, Mike Schmid and I got together at Haverhill and we decided that there wasn’t enough value placed on children’s arts. Arts funding was starting to diminish, (of course, anytime the government is short of money, the first things to go are those things that they think of as a frill: music and art, foreign language and even PE.) So we decided to start a Festival for Art and Music in Elementary Education: FAME. And that was back in 1987 and we wanted to put the creativity of young children in the eye of the public. So that the public would know how important it is to start with art at a young age so that they can carry this creativity throughout their lives. FAME has reached over 4,500,000 students, highlighting their talents and bringing multicultural arts to them for 29 years with seven different programs annually.  This year the FAME Festival is March 19-20 at the Grand Wayne Center.  Come and explore the arts!
If students are not introduced to the wonder of the arts in grade school, by the time they get to high school they are selecting their own classes and they think ‘I can’t do music’, ‘I can’t do art’, ‘I can’t do drama’ because they have not been introduced to it. So that’s why we started FAME.”

JF: “Where do you start when you are teaching children music?”
DK: “I always try to start with rhythm. There is rhythm and movement in your body. And how is that going to translate into how you sing and how you move and how you communicate with people. We always hear about the language of music, well, that's what we teach in school, the keys to another kind of communication: music, a universal language, whether you hear it in this country or in another country. With FAME we try to emphasize a different part of the world every year and bring in artists and musicians into the schools. And when the children hear this, they don’t have to know the language they just know that the music talks to them, the art talks to them in a way that is organic it’s something that people understand.
The arts document history. They document how civilizations have come about.
You go to all these countries: Turkey or India, Japan, China, they are thousands of years old and it’s astounding. The art works, the statues, and the places where people perform… the amphitheaters are still there and people revered how the arts were important in their lives. We are such a young country, the U.S. and we are trying to bring that into Fort Wayne through the schools and with public art: the arts spark creativity and this is what we need with our children.“

JF: “Are the schools working with academic standards for the arts?”
DK: “Oh yes, several years ago the federal government put arts standards in place. Which then filtered down to the states and there is a very big curriculum of how people have to teach it now. Sometimes it can be confining. When I was teaching I liked to collaborate with the teachers where they would write a story in their classrooms and we would translate it to a wonderful vehicle called Kamishibai: story boards from Japan. They illustrated their own stories and we would write music in music class for it. So there is this element of how the arts can be collaborative with the classroom teachers. And it was a fantastic project. Now, I don’t think that they would have time to do that because of what they have to do in every class. There is so much testing going on, I know that this is a stress as well.”

JF: “Has music become so much a part of our curriculum that it no longer faces cuts?”
DK: “Sadly, no. There are places in our state where music and the arts have been cut out altogether. And that is tragic. Who is going to lead the way? In our districts we still have music. Some teachers are traveling to several schools now. They have cut back on the length of class times; I have a friend who doesn’t have a choir anymore. What a tragedy for the kids to not have singing in their lives!”

JF: “Music is one of those subjects that defy categories. As you are speaking we’ve heard about rhythm and singing but also acting and movement, history and language, and all of those combined threads are under the umbrella of music in our schools.”
DK: “That’s correct and if we don’t teach it who is going to? If we don't teach why music is important the audiences for the live performances in town, Heartland, the Philharmonic, the Bach Collegium, the Ballet, will disappear.

When they go out to get a job many employers want to know if you have been in band or choir or sports because when you are working in these types of organizations you are in a microcosm of society: because each of you has to do your part working together toward a finished excellent product. And that helps develop a work ethic that is missing. You have to work as a team but still you can be creative. To think creatively is the goal of the arts in education, to come up with outstanding original ideas, to think outside the box. It is all there through the arts!”

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Heartland Sings, Inc. is a nonprofit vocal music production company based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Founded in 1997 by Maestro Robert Nance, Heartland Sings creates a variety of vocal music productions and educational outreach programs.

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