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Class Act Receives High Marks

August 04, 1996|Daniel Cariaga | Daniel Cariaga is The Times' music writer

Class Act, the Pacific Symphony Orchestra's 2-year-old elementary school education project, was honored in June by the American Symphony Orchestra League. At the league's meeting in Cincinnati, it was one of nine programs (out of 237 projects surveyed) singled out as an exemplary bringing together of classical music and schools.

The Orange County project sends three musicians from the orchestra into 10 public schools. Last season, it was flutist Cynthia Ellis, cellist Andrew Honea and trombonist Michael Hoffman. Each school is assigned one player-teacher for the year. The musicians visit their schools monthly, exposing the students to classical music in general and the music of one composer in particular (last year it was Copland, next year Mozart) through solo performances and classroom discussions. There is also an evening assembly, called an Informance, for parents, teachers and students. Daytime assemblies, just for the students, are scheduled three times a year. And at the end of the school year, during a week of daytime performances by the Pacific Symphony at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, all the students from each Class Act site attend the orchestra's performance and then regroup with their musician-teachers for a final discussion of what they've heard.

Building audiences for the future is the first aim of the program, acknowledges Louis G. Spisto, the executive director of the Pacific Symphony's board of directors. Class Act was put together during 1993-94--after the board decided to hire a full-time education and community programs director--and begun in the following season.

Over that season, the new director, Kelly Ruggirello, devised the program with input from parents, teachers and students.

"From the beginning, our emphasis was on parent participation," says Spisto, referring to the hands-on help of parents in coordinating, hosting, observing and maintaining the separate parts of the program. Each participating school has one parent-coordinator and a team of 30 to 40 other parents.

"The success of the program at bringing music into the lives of young people is crucially centered on the support of parents," agrees Ruggirello, a former third-grade teacher. The goal, she says, is "making music part of every student's life. That takes place because of the critical participation of parents and teachers. They are the glue which holds this program together. Without a strong relationship to parents, all this exposure would be, simply, entertainment."

This month, plans are being completed for a third season of Class Act. More than 7,300 students, 360 parent-volunteers and 340 teachers and principals will be involved in making the project work. The annual cost of the program is "in the neighborhood of $65,000," according to Spisto, and it is now paid for by the orchestra association. Ruggirello is hoping grants will allow the program to grow. "We would like to go from 10 schools to 20," she says. "The interest is out there, but the orchestra cannot expand the program without outside help."

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