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Music gets "grittier" at South Tama

Music In All Schools Month

March 31, 2014
By Allison Graham - News-Herald Staff Writer ( , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

In the 90's we got "jiggy". It's 2014 and in the world of education it's time to get "gritty". Grit is the newest buzz word floating that has caught the attention of educators across the country. It was even featured in a recent report released by the U.S. Department of Education. In a story published by Vermont Public Radio, experts define grit as persistence, determination, and resilience. The phrase "he/she has a great work ethic" is quite literally so last year. For those in favor of this new approach to education everyone needs grit so you better get on "gritty" board.

A subject in school where grit has always been a requirement for success is music. Skills such as reading sheet music, learning an instrument, or understanding vocal techniques are rarely things that come naturally to first time students. It takes a lot of failures, long hours of practice, and determination to really begin to yield some of the intended benefits. With March being Music in our Schools month there is no better time to talk about getting down and gritty with hard work.

Music in our public school systems has taken a hit over the past several years. It is an area that school districts are sometimes forced to look at when faced with budget cuts. Yet music education could, quite possibly, be one of the most crucial parts of education system to sustain. South Tama has had to make some of those cuts and now operates with an elementary music teacher, one middle/high school band director and one middle/high school choir director. However, STC students are fortunate to continue to receive music education from three teachers who are very passionate about what they do.

Article Photos

Trumpet section along with clarinets in the South Tama High School Concert Band at the Parade of Bands on March 3 at the High School Gym.
News-Herald photos/Allison Graham

Music Staff

Marilyn Rippy teaches music for STC elementary. Rippy focuses on teaching her students basic musical concepts such as pitch, volume, and how to draw musical notes. The older elementary students learn about harmony and texture.

Mike Carnahan teaches band for 6th-12th grade students. He is also the instructor for high school marching band, jazz band, and pep band. Carnahan says one thing students learn in band is that it is okay to make mistakes and, as a group, they can work together to fix those mistakes.

Chris McFate teaches choir for 6th -12th grade students grade students and is also involved with the high school musical and Harding Street show choir. McFate also teaches music literacy for sixth grade students where they learn how notation works, pitch as well as basic musical theory and the music of other cultures. Both Carnahan and McFate split their days between the middle and high schools.

Benefits of Music in Our Schools

Studies have shown that music can have a profound effect on not just a students emotional intelligence but also bolsters skills used in other classes such as math and science. According to the National Association for Music Education website, studies show that music improves cognition, influences decision making skills, teaches us grit, and improves grade point averages just to name a few of the benefits.

Personal Testimony

Carnahan got the teaching bug while he was coaching a little league team in college. He remarks, "Teaching someone something you are passionate about is a very powerful thing."

McFate had a notion in high school that she might want to teach music someday after helping a fellow student learn a tough soprano part. She began her college career at Simpson College and after two years she knew she wanted the best of both worlds, to teach and perform. She went on to finish her last two years of college at Kansas State University.

For Rippy music took her places. She has traveled throughout the country to perform in musical groups that she has been a part of. She also credits music for her decision to go to college. "Everybody can be successful (in music class). Even students who struggle with behavior have succeded in music," said Rippy.

Students Showing Empathy

Music can help students grow not just academically but also emotionally. Carnahan believes that music teaches students to have empathy. One way the high school band is showing that empathy will be during their upcoming concert on May 6.

In October of 2011 the STC community suffered a terrible tragedy with the loss of student, Ian McFate. In honor of Ian's memory the high school band will be playing a special piece of music entitled "By My Side". The concert, scheduled for Tuesday May 6th, will (perhaps not so) coincidentally also be taking place on Ian's birthday. By My Side" is a piece of music that the STC band had commissioned from composer Andrew Boyson Jr. specifically for Ian. The piece reflects Ian's love of music and his personality. Sabrina Holtz, a flute player, said "It is an honor to be able to remember Ian (through the playing of this piece). It is something that will be in the family's hearts forever."

Music is a powerful and intriguing thing. It's a universal language that can give people the ability to cry, laugh, feel joy and possibly heal, even if just for a moment. McFate sums up music beautifully by saying, "Music connects everything. It connects us as human beings to each other and the world." If you would like more information about the May 6th concert contact Mike Carnahan at the high school. For more information on music education please visit



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