Hitting a high note by helping high school musicians in Seattle shed limitations
Orchestra leader Marcus Tsutakawa and jazz band conductor Clarence Acox inspire music students at Seattle's Garfield High School.
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"I don't count on the school district for anything," Tsutakawa says softly. "Because of my parent group, I have the freedom to buy everything I want – music, instruments, travel. We bought a $3,000 string bass. I spent $700 or $800 on new music. We just got a $10,000 gift from the parent of a former student."Skip to next paragraph
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Adds Acox, in his patient New Orleans baritone, "I always say this: that administrators who only focus on math, reading, and science are not thinking big enough – because we need to be about the business of educating and developing the total student.
"I know for a fact that there are kids who would not be in school if there weren't music programs. Kids who are involved in the arts – there's a much better correlation of them succeeding."
Danielle Kuhlmann played French horn for both Tsutakawa and Acox, graduated in 2003, and lives today in New York playing classical gigs, Broadway shows, jazz, and rock. "They're both really humble, and I think that contributes to the program's success," she says of her two mentors. "Both of them are so positive. They care about all of their musicians."
Several of his students say choosing difficult music is part of Tsutakawa's success. "I played every major symphony before I got to college," Ms. Kuhlmann says. "That was amazing. We were always challenged to play difficult pieces."
Seattle has a storied jazz scene and is a robust market for classical music. Two middle schools, Washington and Eckstein, have developed stellar music programs of their own that feed Garfield, as well as Roosevelt High in the north end. Either Garfield or Roosevelt has won Essentially Ellington seven times in 11 years.
Ms. de Koch lists four qualities she sees Acox and Tsutakawa inspire: discipline, perseverance, accountability, and integrity.
"Most of these kids will not go on to be professional musicians," she says. "As a parent, I really value these other qualities they instill."
Acox, who joined the school in 1971, only expected to stay a couple of years.
"I have been very successful in creating an environment where the kids can expand," he says. "I expose them to the music of the masters, let them listen to it, and develop a concept of what swing music should sound and feel like. It far exceeded my wildest expectations."
Tsutakawa never lets his passion wane. "I hate missing a day of class with these kids," he says. "The day after a concert, if they don't bring their instruments, they hear from me – especially the freshmen: 'No, we can't take the day off.'
"But the thing that I work on the most is learning every kid's name," he adds. "I know it sounds really corny. I try to do it as fast as I can."