2003-07-18 / Community

Music Memory Takes Kids to the Top

By Elizabeth Roth
Music Memory Takes Kids to the Top By Elizabeth Roth


Martin Penzer, head of the program with his competition teams and their teachers.Martin Penzer, head of the program with his competition teams and their teachers.

If, in a survey, several thousand fourth graders were asked to tell the difference between Beethoven and Brahms, the number of accurate replies could probably be counted without a calculator. But a very determined group from PS 183 not only knows the difference, but has taken the knowledge to Lincoln Center with the Music Memory Program.

Funded by the Rockaway Music and Arts Council and Barbara Eisenstabe, and run by musical director Martin Penzer, the program takes a new method of reading and memorizing music, and links it to other subjects, with terrific success. If they are teaching jazz they tie it into history, dance, art and other things that are relevant to the period. It even helps teach math, fractions and more, because the kids need to keep track of beats per measure and so on.

Then several of the best students from each year are chosen for a competition team. These kids then display their knowledge before judges, and the kids from 183 went all the way to the top. At the city finals the third and fourth grade team won the gold in the city championship. The fifth grade team won silver.

Mrs. Patricia Girgenti, who has a BA in music and teaches the second graders, comments "it’s one of the best programs I’ve ever come across. It introduces the kids to so much, and since the focus right now is on literacy, I’ve been able to do so many writing and reading programs through it."


Captain of the gold medal team, Joanna Mieleszko, demonstrating her knowledge of Puccini.Captain of the gold medal team, Joanna Mieleszko, demonstrating her knowledge of Puccini.

But the story here is less the medals than the enthusiasm level. Play a piece of classical music, jazz or even opera for these kids, and they are spellbound. The second graders who will be competing next year are just as exited.

Mrs. Sheila Forem, fifth grade teacher explains, "The whole community supports it so much, and gets involved, the response is overwhelming. There is not one child who does not want to participate."

The program is certainly taking more than one of them past their time at PS 183. Sonya Robinson, the fifth grade captain, has just been accepted to Julliard Prepatory School. Ask the collected group of students how many of them want to be musicians when they grow up, and almost every hand shoots up in the air. Many of them were impressed with the orchestra at Lincoln Center that they saw the day of the championship. Most of them play at least one instrument. "You can make music with anything." student Christopher Dawkins pointed out, grinning mischievously. The beautiful part was how obviously he enjoyed the process.


Sonya Robinson, fifth grade captain, chart­ing Beethoven.Sonya Robinson, fifth grade captain, chart­ing Beethoven.

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