Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A journey in music at St. Raphael Catholic School

The Music Department at St. Raphael Catholic School will present a Christmas Concert at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 16 in the Parish Center. All parishioners are welcome. Band and music students are currently rehearsing for the concert. Photographer Jane Winstead attended a recent rehearsal to produce the photo essay above. Below is a letter to parishioners from Joy auf dem Kampe, the director of the music program.

Dear Fellow Parishioners,
I have been invited to share the “journey” of the Music Department at St. Raphael Catholic School with you by writing an article for the Saint Raphael Messenger. It is my pleasure to do so.

Volker and I moved our family to St. Petersburg from Germany in 1987. Our two children, Chris (10) and Becky (6), were enrolled at St. Raphael Catholic School, and we became parishioners at St. Raphael Catholic Church.

We had decided to make a change in our professional lives, after teaching at the Hofheim Conservatory of Music for 15 years in Germany. Soon after we settled in, Volker and I attended nursing school and upon graduation began working in many local hospitals. We had effectively put the world of music behind us and were enjoying the new challenge that nursing was providing.

Chris and Becky loved attending St. Raphael Catholic School and made many memories over the school years. We were always very impressed by the curriculum standards, the faculty, the athletic department and the nurturing atmosphere the school provided.

We discovered, however, that the school did not have a music curriculum that satisfied the needs of our young musical children! After our first Christmas in the United States came and went, we realized that the school did not stage Christmas Concerts for the children or any other musical opportunities.

I made an appointment with the principal to discuss the situation and was told that the school had no performance groups, therefore concerts were not possible. After further inquiries, I was also told that the music curriculum only included singing.

My husband and I strongly supported the arts in our careers in Germany, and we were very sad to hear that our children were not receiving the musical standards that we supported at the Conservatory. After much discussion at home, I returned to the principal with suggestions regarding the curriculum. What happened next is the “JOURNEY”!

The principal at St. Raphael Catholic School at this time was Patricia Coyle. On the day I visited Mrs. Coyle with suggestions to improve the quality of music education at the school, she had an entirely different agenda!

Her concept was very simple: “If you want something done correctly, do it yourself”! I was literally in shock when she reached into her desk drawer and tossed me two teaching contracts across her desk; one for me and one for Volker! I quickly explained that I did not NEED a job and that I was not LOOKING for a job!

In short, she didn’t care about any or all of the above! She wanted changes in the Music Department and she wanted us to literally write a new curriculum for the school.

I returned home to my family, and over dinner shared the latest developments regarding the meeting with Mrs. Coyle. Jokingly I said: “Can you believe she wants us to take this job”? I could have never anticipated the response that sentence would illicit from Chris and Becky!

They thought the concept of their parents being the new music teachers in the school was absolutely AWESOME!!! So Volker and I decided that we would take on the challenge and build a program for the school. We stated up front that we would leave the position when our youngest child, Becky, graduated from eighth grade. (That was 15 years ago and we are still here!)

I have asked myself and God so many questions regarding this momentous change in our lives. Volker and I were settled in our new nursing careers and never intended to return to the world of the arts. How did we end up doing the exact same thing we had given up when we moved to the U.S. from Germany? I have been told that this was “God”s Plan,” and slowly over the years, I have to admit that I stopped questioning and became accepting of the new journey He was providing.

Our students at St. Raphael Catholic School have become amazing musicians over the years. The new curriculum we introduced so long ago gave the students the opportunity to explore the world of music.

We begin teaching note-reading in Kindergarten, offer Bell Choir in second grade, Recorder Karate` in third, beginning Band in fourth, and Advanced Band to grades 5-8. Non-Band students participate in the Orff Ensemble.

Grades K-4 also form the school’s Elementary Choir, and the gifted recorder students play in the Angel Choir. Every child in the school performs at two concerts annually; the Christmas Concert and the Spring Concert.

We have had many students audition and receive placement in the Pinellas All County Band, Florida All State Band and the Pinellas Youth Symphony. Many of our former students have gone on to play in their high school bands and orchestras. We have also had students win music scholarships and choose to major in music in college!

In closing, I would like to share a personal insight I have received after being the “silent witness” to this musical journey in our school. It is easier not to question God’s will, and much simpler just to follow His lead. This has been truly the biggest journey of my lifetime, and I will be forever grateful to have been allowed to be a small part of St. Raphael Catholic School’s students’ lives!

May God bless you and your families! We would love to see you at our Christmas Concert on December 16 at 7 p.m. in the Parish Center!

Joy auf dem Kampe, director of bands/music, St. Raphael Catholic School

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