Educator Spotlight – K. Michelle Lewis, J. Graham Brown School

KMichelleLewisNovember 2011, Educator Spotlight: J. Graham Brown School and Band Director, K. Michelle Lewis.

No stranger to music composition, the J. Graham Brown School is searching for a professional composer for a Spring 2012 collaboration.

The J. Graham Brown School has elementary, middle, and high school students in the same building. This inner city school in downtown Louisville is in the top 4% of best schools in America as determined by U.S. News and World Report in 2011.  The award-winning band program has been in existence for approximately 39 years. Under the direction of K. Michelle Lewis the program has earned distinguished ratings at concert and sight reading festivals and was the recipient of the Grammy in the Schools Enterprise award in 2011.  The band program consists of a percussion ensemble, elementary, middle and high school steel drum ensembles, a jazz program and concert bands.

It is no surprise that this forward-thinking school incorporates music composition into their curriculum. Band director, K. Michelle Lewis explains, “One of the main goals I have for my students is to learn how to use music as a device for communication.  This means communication with one another and the audience.  Another goal is for my students to be able to feel confident at composing music for their instrument, or for other instruments they are interested in.” She tells CSIC about a current project: “The members of the J. Graham Brown School jazz and concert bands are currently involved in a composition project that consists of touring downtown Louisville, taking pictures of the city that inspire them, and writing a piece of music about the architecture. The students will use the images as an impetus to create their own pieces of music. This project is entitled “Sounds of the City,” a collection of original compositions by the J. Graham Brown School Band. Our high school band students will present their works in a public performance with the pictures running behind the compositions as they are played.” An introduction to music composition happens early at Brown. Lewis says, “The middle school band was involved in a research and implementation of Orff methodology in which they composed their own band piece and performed it in their final concert of the year.”

Lewis has seen first-hand the cuts to the arts that Composers and Schools in Concert was formed, partially, to address.  “I’m seeing more and more schools get rid of music programs from the elementary level on up through high school.  I believe this is affected by the lack of academic progress and test scores not being high enough.  Many schools do not allow students who are failing to participate in music programs if they are failing an academic class,” says Lewis.  I’m hoping the new Program of Studies that Kentucky has adopted will be a positive change for the arts in our state.  The music programs will now be evaluated from a performance standpoint, which means that music must be offered to students during the school day.”

The J. Graham Brown school music program is eager to collaborate with a professional composer, and says they are “open for almost anything,” musically.  “Collaborating with music professionals outside of the school system is an awesome experience for the students as well as myself,” explains Lewis. “The students get to experience rehearsals and/or sectionals with professionals in the field who bring a different aspect to their education than what I can give them.  It also enhances my professional development as a music educator.  I’m constantly learning something from everyone every day, even my students.  I feel that collaboration is extremely important if you want to be on the cutting edge of education.”

The J. Graham Brown School is currently seeking a professional composer to collaborate with during the spring of 2012 to help coach the students in their project Sounds of the City to be performed in May of 2012. For more information please contact Composers and Schools in Concert at info@composersandschools.com.

Learn more about the J.Graham Brown band program at www.brownband.webs.com.