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Tipping the Scales of Musical Training

Sep 18, 2012 11:51AM ● By Anonymous

The Carnegie Hall Royal Conservatory Achievement Program answers those questions with nationally standardized methods that will give each music student an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.

The program was recently launched in this area, and is growing rapidly in the number of participating students. Helen Smith Tarchalski, Regional Leader of the Achievement Program in Anne Arundel County, notes, "I have never found such a comprehensive learning and assessment program as The Achievement Program. And now our Annapolis area is serving and being recognized as a national leader in the growth of this program already within the first year!"

The program was established by Carnegie Hall and The Royal Conservatory as a response to a direct need for consistency in music assessment. The program aims to provide students with individual assessments at different levels with professional adjudicators. With their own instructors, students practice and work toward passing each level of assessment.

Then, at set times each year, they meet in person with an unbiased adjudicator, where they receive marks, critiques, encouragement, and, with each level passed, a certificate as an actual acknowledgement of where they stand in their musical growth.

This program is distinct from other assessment programs which might be geared toward one type of instrument; strings, for example. The Achievement Program has more levels than any other national program. Politics are completely removed because the adjudicator is an independent third party. Students can feel assured that they are being reviewed under the same rules as all other students nationwide at their level.

Current students range in age from four to 92. All instruments are represented, even the accordion. As Sarah Johnson, Director of Weill Music at Carnegie Hall puts it, "The program offers highly motivating, self-regulating learning. The assessments consist of a wide range of choices the students can make so there is a real sense of ownership in their learning."

There is no timetable, so if a student is not ready for an assessment at the designated time of the year, he or she can work towards the next assessment. If a student does not pass an assessment, he or she can retake it the next time.

Some of the musicians will turn their art into a profession, like Leigh Emerson, age 16, of Lothian, who wants to be a piano teacher, and appreciates that the colleges she applies to in the near future will understand the meaning of the level she has reached through the program.

Other students want music as just one component of their life goals, like Will Scerbo, age 15, of Shady Side. Will wants to be a biologist, but the accelerated pace of learning from the program has helped him prepare for music competitions and local gigs. "This is a program for literally everyone," says Sarah Johnson.

The adjudicators are high level musicians themselves and are often recommended to the program by others who are already a part of the Achievement Program. Jennifer Snow, Chief Academic Officer of the Achievement Program elaborates. "The application process is very rigorous for adjudicators. They go through numerous reviews and interviews in order to maintain the standards set out in the program. They are leading teachers, nationally, and are required to have mandatory continuing education."

Any music instructor can teach the standards and repertoire to their students to prepare them for assessments and the Achievement Program has syllabi available for music teachers for that purpose. "Parents, teachers and students are excited about the standards, consistency, and integrity of the program. The assessments are a celebration of what the students have done," says Snow.

Kayla Bladzinski, age eight, of Arnold, agrees. While preparing for her last assessment, her mom came into her room and saw that she had set up an iPhone to record herself. She wanted to arrive at the test early and couldn't wait to go in. She was jumping with excitement at the gratifying results and was thrilled to begin working towards her next level.

Tarchalski demonstrates how the assessment works once the student is ready to meet with the adjudicator. "The process is not intimidating, but encouraging and affirming." Adjudicators will fly in from different locations for an assessment period. Students will then meet one-on-one and go through a series of elements. There are three repertoire assessments, all from different historical periods. Students will be evaluated on ear training, where they will hear something played and try to play it back without having practiced the piece before. As students rise through the levels, the playbacks become more complex. They will also be evaluated on sight reading; given an unfamiliar piece to play from sight. The adjudicator will consider the technical aspects of their performance, such as scales, chords, and the ways to play them. "The student is in control of the order of the elements and how it takes place. They are beaming with a sense of accomplishment by the end. The assessments teach the students about risk taking," says Tarchalski.

Students and parents are noticing that preparation for the assessments has made the students respond and learn the music more rapidly and comprehensively. Sean Hanley, age 15, of Annapolis, says his favorite part of the program is the "accelerated learning" and his father, Joe, comments that, "The program has taught Sean about setting goals, meeting deadlines, and how to focus and concentrate better. He has an increased ability to lay out plans and get organized."

Other students use the program to fill the holes in their music education. Chris Sanders, of Annapolis, is an adult, established music teacher, but she is working towards an assessment in order to improve her sight reading. She appreciates the vast and varied repertoire at her disposal through the program, as well.

Music at any level can have a huge impact on our lives. Tarchalski points out some advantages to taking it seriously. "Musicians have a five percent larger cerebellum, and, of people who make more than $150K a year, 80 percent have had music instruction. SAT and other standardized test scores are also higher." Sarah Johnson concurs, saying, "This program is a holistic education. Music connects us all and provides more well-rounded citizens. And besides the social impact, there's no denying the cognitive development, and higher marks in math and science because of music education." The enthusiasm of the students, parents, instructors and adjudicators make this a program to consider for everyone interested in music education.

To find out more about the program, syllabus and local assessment centers, visit the Achievement Program website.