Champions of Change
"Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning" by the Arts Education Partnership and the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities confirmed some clear connections between youth involvement in the fine arts and academic success, community involvement and emotional development. According to the study, 82 percent of 8th graders who earned mostly As and Bs were heavily involved in the fine arts, compared to 67 percent of A-B students who were not involved; 30 percent of fine arts participants regularly performed community service, versus just six percent of non-participants; and students uninvolved in arts were more than twice as likely to drop out of school by the 10th grade.
"Children who are involved in the arts have a much broader perception of what's going on in the world," says Rocky DiGeorgio, a conductor with the JSO. "They make much better grades in mathematics, have better vocabulary and are far more literate than those not involved in arts."
DiGeorgio conducts the JSO's Jump Start Strings and Foundation Strings programs, the first two of a progressive series of programs that train youth to play string instruments. He founded the Jump Start Strings Camp, an annual, week-long event, to help broaden the demographic scope of children involved in music. Successful students go on to enter the more formal Jump Start Strings program. Camp participants, all beginners, learn the basics of playing the violin, viola, cello and bass.
The camp is open to all, but organizers target children who are economically disadvantaged or otherwise have little or no access to music and arts programs. DiGeorgio points to state and federal budget cuts that have all but eradicated arts programs from many schools, including dozens in Duval County.
"There is no beginning standpoint for kids who typically would come [to JSYO] from the schools," he says.
Graduates of JSO's Jump Start Strings program progress to Foundation Strings, a continuation of the previous training. The Junior Strings program is for beginning and intermediate level musicians who have studied their instrument for several years. Students are introduced to music theory and learn to play in conducted ensembles.
Next step is Premiere Strings, an orchestra for intermediate and advancing level musicians to fine tune their ensemble skills. Graduates move on to the Repertory Orchestra, a full symphony orchestra that builds students' reading and ensemble skills and experience in string, wind, brass and percussion. Many move on to the Philharmonic, a full orchestra for advanced and pre-professional students of orchestral literature. A separate, optional program offered to Philharmonic musicians is the JSYO Chamber Music Program. Students perform music in small groups of players, allowing for increased individuality and creativity.
A Whole New Tune
For many students, such training can be life-changing. Just ask DiGeorgio, who began training at age 11 on a hand-me-down violin in New England shortly after his family immigrated from war-torn Southern Italy.
"I would never have gone to college had it not been for my music ability," he says. "Of all the generations of my family, I was the first to go to college and graduate."
Spring Auditions for the JSYO's 2008-2009 Season run May 19-June 1 at Florida Community College at Jacksonville's Wilson Center for the Arts on the South Campus.