Fireweed becomes second Homer school to employ group music program

There’s something growing in Homer, and it’s not a giant fungus or the many glaciers. An ensemble music program that’s sweeping education internationally has made its way to Little Fireweed Academy.

The charter school launched the Fireweed Frescoes Music Program at the beginning of this school year. Teacher Kim Fine said it’s been inspired by the social movement called El Sistema which originated in Venezuela in the 1970s. Juneau adapted the idea into its own music program called Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM), and Paul Banks Elementary School has for a few years operated the Paul Banks Preludes.

All are ensemble music programs targeted at young students. The goal is to help the students learn cooperation, focus, memory, stamina and more.

“Part of what happens is, we know it (music) helps with poise, confidence, perseverance, stamina, all those things,” Fine said. “But it really helps the brain open up to learning.”

But El Sistema-based program have another goal, too.

“It’s understood that music was an intervention or a venue that you could use, not to make virtuosos — that’s not our goal — but to help us be better citizens,” Fine said.

Staff at Fireweed began conversations about creating a local music program in May, Fine said. Those discussions continued through the summer, and eventually the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra was brought on as the fiscal agent for the Fireweed Frescoes. The program began at the start of this year with 52 students in kindergarten through second grade.

The school has hired Katie Klann, a local violin teacher, to instruct the students. She also teaches the Preludes program.

Fireweed students and parents attended the cardboard violin making sessions at Paul Banks this year to get a taste of how that phase of the program works, Fine said.

“We were so lucky to be able to go to Paul Banks and observe and participate in their violin making with their families,” she said. “…The cardboard violins were born.”

Klann has begun basic rhythm instruction with the Fireweed Frescoes, Fine said, teaching them how to be musical together. As the year progresses, the program will likely follow a similar format of practices and concerts as with the Preludes, though Fine said she’s not sure exactly what shape Fireweed’s program might take.

“The ground flow of music, it’s not just happening in our community — it’s happening in our school and it’s very contagious,” Fine said.

She said that, at its heart, an El Sistema-inspired program asks people to be a part of something bigger than themselves. A tall order for the average person, but, Fine said, even more impressive when asking it of very young children.

“When we are asked to be part of something that is bigger than ourselves, we are asked to rise to the occasion,” she said.

Fine said it’s been powerful to watch the young Fireweed students do just that.

Working with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra will allow the Fireweed Frescoes program to write grant applications for funding. The groups also recently received a $4,725 grant for the Homer Foundation that will fund the purchase of 21 violins for the students. Four instruments have also been donated, according to Fine.

Local band “Burnt Down House” will play at KBay Caffe this Saturday as a fundraiser for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, and, through them, the Frescoes. The band will play from 3-5 p.m., and donations will be accepted.

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