It’s been a while since Shayla Paige has played the piano.
The Starkville High School junior and member of the school choir’s Chamber Singers, she’s excited to again “tickle the ivories” beginning next fall.
Partnership Middle School and Starkville High School have procured the funds to build piano labs to further music education in the school district.
The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Board of Trustees accepted a $10,000 donation from the Starkville-MSU Symphony Association for a piano lab at PMS. The board also voted to fund a piano lab at SHS for $17,985.
Paige plans to be one of the first students learning in the high school lab, both to expand her music skills and enhance her singing.
“I’m interested in taking piano lessons because I love music,” Paige said. “I had a keyboard when I was younger, so I learned to play a little bit, but then I stopped. So, I want to learn how to play the piano again, and I think it will help my singing voice as well because I can tune my voice to the piano.”
The SHS piano lab will have 16 full-sized weighted keyboards, and PMS will have 15 keyboards, each of which can be transformed into two small keyboards with individual headsets. These duo keyboards will allow instruction for up to 30 students.
SHS Director of Choral Music Jennifer Davis said these piano labs will give students exposure to music theory and piano skills not before offered in the school district.
“It’s one thing to talk about music and learn about composers and instruments and music ideas,” Davis said. “It is a totally different thing to create it and experience it and do it yourself. The concept of teaching music by making music is much more effective than just learning about music.”
These piano labs will be the second and third piano labs built in the district, with Armstrong Junior High School’s piano lab already constructed. Davis said Armstrong’s piano lab has about 30 small keyboards with USB ports for laptop connection, and funding for the lab came from the school administrative budget. She said with the two new lab additions, anyone from grades 6 through 12 can receive piano instruction.
Davis said the piano labs will be included in all middle and high school music education classes.
“If you take a music class at Armstrong or Partnership or the high school, it will include the piano lab in some way whether that’s general music, AP music theory or music appreciation,” Davis said. “They won’t be playing piano the whole time, but it will be incorporated in some way.”
A specific piano course will be offered starting in fall 2020 for students interested in gaining keyboard skills. Students of all experience levels can take the class, and individualized instruction will be offered.
Opening ‘a world of opportunities’
The Symphony donated the funds for the PMS piano lab because members wanted to find a way to still bring music to the community throughout the pandemic. Symphony President Haley Montgomery said she is thrilled to be providing young musicians with the resources to grow in their art.
“From the symphony’s perspective, we were just excited about the opportunity to introduce students beginning in sixth grade to piano skills,” Montgomery said. “… This opportunity will provide them with some skills for college or for anything else they want to do in music. This was an opportunity for us to just give back to the community in this crazy time.”
The Symphony is in its 53rd season in the Golden Triangle. Montgomery said the Symphony’s goal is to produce quality classical and symphonic music for community members who otherwise might not be exposed to this art form.
With projects such as “Programs for Children,” a children’s orchestral program, the Symphony continues to find new initiatives to fuel arts into primary and secondary education, and Montgomery said these piano labs will ignite inspiration and innovative thinking in students.
“We feel that the arts open up a whole world of opportunities for students to be creative, to be exposed to different things, to use some skills and thinking that they don’t find in other classes,” Montgomery said. “We are very excited to be a part of just helping students expand their opportunities related to the arts and expose them to more creativity.”
Davis said she is thankful to work in a school district that values the arts as much as athletics and academics and is hopeful for the growth and success of the music program.
“I think learning keyboard skills is critical in music education,” Davis said. “I think it’s a bonus that the school district has provided the funding for this to happen, and the symphony seeing this as an opportunity to invest back is a huge gift.”