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Music in Our Schools Month: Teens Seek Outlets to Explore Love of Popular Music

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There’s a reason why I write about music; it’s because I can’t read it. The product of a single parent household, private music lessons weren’t on the menu until I reached high school. There, I briefly took guitar lessons. I attended a private grammar school in an inner city, so funds for instruments weren’t available. While I learned enough about the Bible there and how to properly fold a uniform skirt to sit above the knee, music in school was a luxury we didn’t have.

My music experience was constant in school, but was relegated to the choir — voices are free, after all — and singing along to the lone instrument available: the church organ. Students were only allowed to sing church songs up until the 8th grade, when our graduation song was Boyz II Men‘s “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday.” My class fought hard for that song — it was initially suggested we sing something that wasn’t so risque.

My private high school had more money than my grammar school, so the kids there could afford outside lessons. Ironically enough, the school band was only for kids with musical experience — yet my school offered no music teaching, save for the “Music Appreciation” class where we learned how Johann Sebastian Bach was the greatest man ever but Madonna did nothing for music. It amazed me how the school system felt that nothing significant happened in music once President Nixon left office. The school band shook the school’s foundation when they opted to sing Rusted Root’s “Beautiful People” at a school ceremony.

Watch Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”

When I was asked by The BoomBox to write about “Music in Schools,” I hoped things had changed since I was a teenager. Some strides were made, I am happy to report. My cousin Gabby Acquaviva is a 14-year-old freshman at Immaculate Heart Academy in Washington Township, N.J. Singing has been her passion for as long as I can remember. I recall her being 6 years old and running into a room singing “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” from C+C Music
Factory. After hearing her, I remember thinking, “Whoa. She sings really well!”

She is now geared to make singing her career, however, her school only offers two options to assist in that dream: an a capella group and musical theater. While the former covers some pop music, it’s rarely ever mentioned anywhere else. The half-year Music Appreciation course focuses in on primarily classical music. That sentiment is shared with orchestra, the marching band and the jazz band.

“There’s nothing really modern, except for a talent show where you can sing what you want,” Gabby explains. “I think that they should have a teacher for singers or there should be more of a way to get involved with music. From what I’ve heard, there are a lot of people in my school who sing and want to be singers — and most of them are really good — but the groups available aren’t for every voice type. There’s also no real way to bring your own music in and showcase it. If you want to do something with music, you’ve gotta go out and do it. They won’t say, ‘OK, I’m going to help you.’”

Sean McNulty, a 15-year-old student at Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey,
N.J. has a love for deejaying and has decided to pursue it. While his school is known for being the No. 1 high school football team in the country, he learns to mix beats at home through FL Studio. “I like all different kinds of music and I like to mix them all together — I could be listening to dubstep and then surf rock and I’ll mix those,” Sean says. He didn’t learn the art of scratch at school, though. “One of my friends told me about it so I downloaded some software and I go to his house. He has some spinners, subwoofers, so we make it happen.”

Athletics also trump music in Nicolette Corrado’s high school. She attends Kinnelon High in Kinnelon, N.J. “I feel like athletics is a little more important at times,” she explains. “The kids in the music program definitely try to make it as important as say, lacrosse and soccer. We work really hard too to perform and sound great and make sure everyone comes to watch us [perform]. We just want to be equal to athletics.”

Nicolette is a member of the New Jersey Youth Chorus, a touring vocal company that has had the most impact on Nicolette. “My director there has inspired me to be a music education teacher because of the way she teaches me and the way she teaches the choir,” Nicolette says. “How she gets the music across and how there’s passion in every piece. I think that’s just very different from what we do at school.”

While Gabby’s school doesn’t necessarily assist her along her music path, Nicolette’s high school has helped her audition for different choirs. Hip-hop and R&B rarely enter the conversation, though other genres are explored. “We don’t really do one genre of music, it’s usually what the director feels like at the time,” she explains. “For graduation, we do have a say in what we like to sing for that or if we have a certain song we’d like to sing senior year, he takes it into consideration.”

My conclusion? Teens aren’t given a well-rounded musical experience in school, but they’re finding ways to explore it on an extracurricular level. What these kids lack in in-school opportunities, they make up for in passion.

“I’d love to be a choir teacher, just to be able to share music around the world and do whatever I can do to send that message,” Nicolette admits.

“I’m getting bored with the music out now. I feel it’s all the same, so I like to make my own,” Sean says.

The most inspiring for me of course, is my own cousin, Gabby. “I want to show people that I have talent, and I want to make people think, ‘Oh this girl isn’t just face in an all-girl school. She’s got something special,’” she says. “And I’m gonna find a way to prove that.”


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