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Students Meditate to Cleveland Orchestra Music in Schools

Chase has warm feelings towards the orchestra music [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

Living in a fast-paced, on-demand world can be stressful. Although many of us try to cope with the distractions, that can be particularly tough for children.   An Ohio-grown educational program, Mindful Music Moments, combines the music of the Cleveland Orchestra with meditative techniques to promote a sense of calm.

At Canterbury Elementary in Cleveland Heights, each morning at 9:00, students stop for a moment and listen to a few minutes of Cleveland Orchestra music. 

Although he prefers dance tunes, one of the third-graders, Chase, said there's something special about the classical music.

"I felt like I was in a place, like a safe place," he said.  "It’s like when you’re at home and it’s cold outside and you’re sitting by a fireplace.  All the stuff that was stuck in my head, it goes away.   I was in a warm place where I could just sit there and listen to music."

Chase’s teacher, Jasmine Venson, said the whole school does it at the same time. 

"We play it over the loudspeakers and every classroom kind of individualizes in their own way," Venson said.  "Some classrooms have where everybody in class is just centered and their eyes closed.  Others work on an activity while they’re listening, but all classes participate."

Jasmine Venson [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

The daily selections are about four minutes long, which includes a brief, spoken introduction followed by three minutes of music.

"For the whole week, you listen to the same song," Venson said.  "But there are different activities that are included each day of the week, whether it be listen to the music or try to find the pace of the music or try to align your breath to the pace of the music - different things like that."

Canterbury principal Erica Wigton said it can be a challenge to deal with the personal issues of a wide-ranging student body.

"We have kids coming from parents that are just trying to make ends meet, working third shift, single parents," Wigton said.  "That’s why we think mindful music is a great way to start the day, because it re-centers everyone - including myself."

McKenna lives in Cleveland Heights with her mom.  She’s a K-pop and hip-hop fan, but said she kind of likes this classical stuff she’s been hearing in the mornings.

McKenna [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

"I like it a lot," McKenna said.  "I just kind of want to calm down.  I have a lot of things to do to get from home, because it’s 25-minutes away from school.  I really have to rush to get ready, I have to eat breakfast really quickly.  And then  I get to school and I’m like ugh it’s going to be a long day."

Mindful Music Moments is currently in place at over 100 schools across the country.  It’s the brainchild of Cincinnati yoga and movement educator Stacy Sims who also helps trauma victims relax.

Stacy Sims [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

"I was spending a lot of time with refugee students and I knew I couldn’t spend that amount of time with students every day, but I heard the morning announcements, and it occurred to me that that could be a delivery system for some kind of mindful moment for all," Sims said.  "And I had the idea to pair it with classical music."

Joan Katz Napoli has run the Orchestra’s educational efforts for 24 years, working with Cleveland-area schools to supplement their music programs.

Joan Katz Napoli [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

"There are plenty of research studies that document the effectiveness of music to improve learning outcomes, to enhance brain development, especially in younger kids, because it’s lighting up different neurons in your brain and causing those connections to solidify in a way that they would not if they weren’t stimulated by music," Napoli said.  

About 30 schools in Greater Cleveland, currently ranging from pre-K through middle school, use Mindful Music Moments.  That list includes both inner city and suburban districts.

"There’s no school that’s immune from the stress and anxiety caused by school shootings of the last decade, for example," Napoli said.  "Or any one of a number of things that are stressing out students and teachers, these days." 

In addition to the music, participating schools get supplemental background materials and fun facts that teachers can work into their lesson plans.

"A fun fact might be that Mozart started composing at the age of five," Sims said.  "And if you’re working with young kids, that’s mind-boggling."

Corrine has fond memories of the first time the music was played in her classroom.

Corrine [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

"So, they said, imagine that you just won an Olympic," Corrine said.  "And it felt really good to imagine that."

The Cleveland Orchestra's Joan Katz Napoli said there have been some drastic changes in education over the past 30 years.

"First of all, school music programs have been decimated," she said.  "So, part of what arts organizations need to do is to help fill the gap." 

And for the orchestra, there’s the potential for a new generation of listeners.   McKenna said the music has really grown on her, and it’s almost a letdown when that three-minute morning dose is over.

"I wish it would replay, because I just want to sit down and just close my eyes – or open my eyes - and do the work," she said.

Erica Wigton [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

Principal Erica Wigton smiled as a group of kindergarteners walked past her in the Canterbury hallway. 

"We really try to make this place a special place, build relationships with them in a place where they feel safe," she said.

Wigton added that there are many things that can help a school climate.  She sees Mindful Music Moments as one strategy to make school less stressful as the children are learning to cope with an increasingly frantic world. 

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.