Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results – By: Joanne Lipman

I had a teacher once who called his students “idiots” when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, “Who eez deaf in first violins!?” He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he’d be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years’ worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.


I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher we knew as Mr. K. But I was equally struck by the success of his former students. Some were musicians, but most had distinguished themselves in other fields, like law, academia and medicine. Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement. But that alone didn’t explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence.

We’re in the midst of a national wave of self-recrimination over the U.S. education system. Every day there is hand-wringing over our students falling behind the rest of the world. Fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. trail students in 12 other nations in science and 17 in math, bested by their counterparts not just in Asia but in Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands, too. An entire industry of books and consultants has grown up that capitalizes on our collective fear that American education is inadequate and asks what American educators are doing wrong.

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East Sacramento: Arts Intersection

Arts Intersection

Music Teacher Brings Education Into the Mix at Performance Center

imageby Deb Belt

Published on Wednesday, 30 November 2013

Ben McClara stands in the lobby of the GPAC, a modest building in Oak Park just off Stockton Boulevard, where he runs the Sacramento Preparatory Music Academy.

“We seem to be in the invisible building here,” he says with a laugh. “When I describe the location, people ask: ‘There’s a performing arts center there?’”

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 11.54.40 AMIn spite of the seemingly phantom locale, McClara describes a rich schedule of performance, theater and music education happening at the center. Productions of  “Cabaret” and “Spring Awakening” have been performed there over the past two years, along with student recitals, classical, baroque and bluegrass concerts. The music academy offers lessons in piano, woodwind and string instruments, basic percussion and musicianship.

“We have an amazing music education program going on here, just under the radar,” he says. “We are having the time of our lives.”

McClara works with two other Sac Prep Music teachers and three visual artists also occupy studios there.Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 11.53.37 AM They all chip in for the rent. McClara and a friend converted the building from a decrepit office space into a funky, intimate performance venue and school, complete with a 47-seat theater, dressing rooms and music studios.

IMG_4813Students at the academy range in age from 5 to 62, and McClara grants scholarships to about 30 percent of his students, meaning they get free music lessons. “When I see something like a grandma paying for her grandson’s lessons with her Social Security check, I offer a scholarship,” he says. The academy also has a free string ensemble that students can join.

IMG_3547_2The school benefits from donated instruments that are passed on to students. “You know you’re doing something right when someone calls out of the blue and says: ‘I have a keyboard to donate,’ which happened recently,” McClara says.

The center has been running for two years at the intersection of Stockton and V Street. A community group called California State Grange helps make it happen. Bob McFarland, president of the agricultural organization, wanted the building to be a performing arts theater. When McClara heard of the idea, he told McFarland he needed a space to teach music.

“Bob offers affordable rent to artists, and I am grateful for that,” McClara says. “We put in the blood, imagesweat and tears to transform the building, hauling out the old cubicles, putting down new flooring and painting every square inch of the theater black.” The theater seats came from Sacramento City College’s old venue. Tickets to performances at the theater range in price from $10 to $20 and generate money for upkeep of the center.

A recent performance called “When the Bass Hits the Fan” featured Thomas Derthick, principle bassist of the Sacramento Philharmonic, who performed Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 at pitch on a double bass, an extremely difficult feat, according to McClara. “He received the longest standing ovation I have ever seen,” McClara recalls. “We go out of the way to bring special music here and that benefits students, the neighborhood and the public.”

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 11.54.20 AMUnderstated and amiable, McClara started playing music in the fourth grade, beginning with the violin. He went on to play trumpet, baritone, tuba and electric bass before settling on stand-up bass. He recalls playing at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee in the seventh grade and says he’s attended about “every college in town,” completing the music program at American River College, where he studied with Joe Gilman. At Sacramento State, he received a bachelor’s of music in classical performance, and he’s now working through a master’s program in music theory and bass performance at Sac State. “I am the product of wonderful Sacramento teachers,” he says.image

Growing up in the neighborhood near the center where he now teaches, McClara recalls going to the Coca-Cola Company on Stockton Boulevard to watch the green glass bottles roll by on the conveyors. He says he’s proud to be working in his old stomping grounds of Oak Park. “It’s important to me to teach in this neighborhood and help prepare students to compete at the collegiate level,” he says. “I’m keeping it local, and I believe in that.”

For more information about Sacramento Preparatory Music Academy, call 382-2770 or go to sacprepmusic.com

Is Music the Key to Success? – NYT

Is Music the Key to Success?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE trained to be a concert pianist. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was a professional clarinet and saxophone player. The hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner is a pianist who took classes at Juilliard. Multiple studies link music study to academic achievement. But what is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields?

The connection isn’t a coincidence. I know because I asked. I put the question to top-flight professionals in industries from tech to finance to media, all of whom had serious (if often little-known) past lives as musicians. Almost all made a connection between their music training and their professional achievements.
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Artist Spotlight: Timm Rolek

The question we need to be asking is not “How do we sell Schubert”, but

“What do we do when nobody knows Schubert?”

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       Timm Rolek, Conductor

Rolek was the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor with Sacramento Opera, a post that he retained for twelve seasons. During his tenure, the company grew in ticket sales, revenue and audience. It became necessary for the company to restructure its 2011/12 season in light of the economic downturn. He was on the podium for their 2012 production of Rigoletto. Both the public and the press greeted those performances with enthusiasm. His audiences trust both his repertoire selections and his ability to balance and present casts that offer the best of what is available in up-and-coming artists. His philosophy is that the opera/work is the most important; the casts to populate and sing those works will follow.

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