Monday, March 29, 2010

New study shows value of being exposed to the arts in school

The following is an article from the March 20, 2010 edition of The Morning Call

When I chose to devote my afterschool hours in high school to dance classes and theater rehearsals, I wasn't trying to improve my math grades or increase my chances of being satisfied with my future career (although in retrospect, I should have played every instrument for the sake of my Algebra III grade). Being accepted into a good college was on my mind, but I didn't realize the lasting effects that show choir and ''The Nutcracker'' would have on my future.

James S. Catterall of UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies would say that these activities do indeed have a presence in my life, even though I am not a professional performer. Catterall is a leading researcher in the fields of education and arts learning and engagement. He recently published his 12-year study concluding that ''individual artistic engagement can spark long-term positive developments for students, and cohesive arts-rich cultures in schools also produce outcomes called 'doing well' and 'doing good by doing art.'''

His new book, ''Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art,'' details the effects of secondary school arts activities as they relate to school environment, socioeconomic backgrounds, and the lasting effects at ages 20 and 26. (He will be the keynote speaker at Lehigh Valley Arts Council's annual arts-in-education workshop at 1:30 p.m. April 14 at Penn State Lehigh Valley's Center Valley Campus.)

Catterall's team surveyed more than 25,000 students in American secondary schools during the late 1990s and followed up with more than 12,000 of them throughout the 12 years. His original studies established ''for the first time in any comprehensible way that students involved in the arts are demonstrably doing better in school than those who are not.'' Specifically, he found correlations between music and mathematic achievement and theater arts and human development. Most of these findings would seem logical -- reading music involves counting and fractions, and being able to portray a character on stage requires reading comprehension as well as an understanding of personality traits.

What sets Catterall's newly released data apart from other studies is the long-term conclusions he drew from following up with students at ages 20 and 26. Additionally, from the beginning he noted the socioeconomic backgrounds of all of the students and found that low-income students benefited from arts learning more so than students (regardless of arts involvement) from higher income areas.

So what did he gather from his follow-up data? Catterall surveyed the likelihood of volunteerism, voter registration and college enrollment at age 20. About 40 percent of ''high-art'' students (those highly involved in arts activities) enrolled in college, while only 17 percent of ''low-art'' students did so. Additionally, high-art students are more than twice as likely to volunteer as adults. Surveys about job satisfaction at age 26 showed that arts involvement leads to better jobs, higher pay, more job responsibilities and promotion opportunities, and greater future aspirations. So keep practicing your piano scales, kids, it may decrease your chances of becoming a disgruntled employee down the road.

So does my secondary school arts involvement fit in with Catterall's findings?

I still can't explain my disdain for the subject of math, but I do volunteer, will graduate college and am a registered voter. And it looks like the chances are high that I will be satisfied with my job and will aspire to higher positions.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Richard and Oscar!

I jumped into "Some Enchanted Evening" as I do most all shows, with a basis of research to serve as the foundation for the creative process. I especially took a concerted effort in this process for "Some Enchanted Evening", as some might know I believe Rodgers and Hammerstein to have gotten a bit dusty over time, however, during my period of research these thoughts would soon change and I would find my admiration and respect for these two iconic figures in music theatre begin to grow once more. -- I made an incredible realization. The reason my feelings for Rogers and Hammerstein began to decline was due to the stagnation of their shows by no fault of there own but rather a lack of creativity and ability to take a risk on the part of the director's and production staff.

I felt that no matter where I saw a certain show I was seeing the same show I had seen before just with a different leading man singing the same notes and an ensemble moving to different locations on the stage. This is what bored my brain. After all, TO ME, why see something you have seen before. I want to see another director's vision of a certain world--which is creative, strong and takes risks, of course justified in research, and not a recreation of someone else's creative world. During my research I found a series of interviews with Rodgers and Hammerstein that I found quite interesting. The part of the interview that triggered a bolt of creativity was when Richard Rodgers said, “If somebody wants to take a 20-year old song and do his own version of it, I encourage it. I think this is one way of keeping the 20-year old song alive. I think if it were possible, which it isn’t, to force performers and orchestra’s to stick rigidly to the way the song was written, the song would be dead in three months. It would become so tiresome, so monotonous.” To me this was a magical way of Richard Rodgers himself giving me permission to do my own version of this review. In fact he was asking me to do so in order to prolong the life of his music.

As soon as I received permission from Richard, (by now we were close friends you see), my mind became entirely free and this show began to present itself in a new way. I began to see the timeless nature of their music was buried in the presentation. We could effectively speak to today’s audience and touch them in a new and fresh way while maintaining the integrity of these two musical theatre icons. With the metaphorical box many people usually think within destroyed "Some Enchanted Evening" became truly enchanted.