A commitment to the music

River Hill High is 1 of 4 Maryland finalists to become a Grammy Signature School

November 05, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

David Young is serious about music.

A high school sophomore, Young starting playing clarinet in elementary school and added the bassoon to his repertoire about four years ago. He considered going to a private high school, but after examining the music departments decided to stick to his local public school, River Hill.

"We chose public school for the music program," said David, speaking of his family's decision while sitting with his bassoon during a morning music class. "I'm really happy with it."

David's assessment was validated recently when River Hill High's music program was recognized as a finalist to become a Grammy Signature School, a national designation that is awarded by the Grammy Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 1989 to promote music.

The Grammy Foundation was created by the Recording Academy, which also is responsible for the annual Grammy Awards recognizing musical excellence.

To qualify as a finalist for the Signature Schools Award, Joseph Fischer, the music department director for River Hill, had to fill out a detailed questionnaire, answering questions about what music programs are offered and how many students participate in them.

"It was pretty extensive; it was like 12 pages," Fischer said.

River Hill is one of four schools in Maryland of 127 nationwide to make the list of finalists. The other high schools are Mount Hebron, Westminster and Churchill in Potomac.

The next step is to submit four recordings of the musicians playing by Dec. 1, Fischer said. The applications are judged by music professionals on such criteria as the quality of the instruction and the diversity of the musical programs offered.

As many as 40 schools nationwide will be named Signature Schools, but only one will win the top prize of $25,000.

Fischer said if River Hill wins, the money would be used to create a music technology lab, which would have software and other technology that would help students learn to play pianos and other instruments.

The winners will be announced in January, Fischer said.

This marks the first time that Fischer, who has been with River Hill for four years, has sent in an application for the school, he said. He needed time to get used to the school and get the program up to speed, he said.

Meanwhile, with a classroom full of students playing clarinets, flutes, trombones, trumpets and other instruments, Fischer is in his element, standing on a small podium in front of the music room and joking with students as he has them practice numbers such as "Four Scottish Dances."

So what's so great about River Hill's music department?

"I think the biggest issue for us in Howard County is tremendous support for music and music education," Fischer said. "Not only at the administration level, but at the parent level."

And at the student level, too. Students like Young take music class for 50 minutes every day. And Young, like many young musicians at the school, also plays in the jazz ensemble, which meets every other day for 90 minutes.

Other music students, such as sophomore Elise Ansher, are in the marching band. Elise has been playing clarinet since she was a fourth-grader at Clarksville Elementary School, she said.

"I actually really love it," she said of the music program at River Hill. "It just seems like everyone is really dedicated to learning."

Much of the credit goes to Fischer, she said. He seems to find a balance between challenging his students to continually improve and making the classes fun, she said.

"I learn so much from him, but he's also really funny," said junior Emily Reed, who plays the piccolo.

Reed, who is horn captain for the marching band, said much of the appeal of River Hill's music program is that students who play music together are a tight-knit group.

"I basically live in the band room," she said. "Half of us do. We're all really committed."

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