Musically Proud

The Frisco ISD is no stranger to being awarded numerous accolades for accomplishments that range from individual awards to awards earned by the collaborative efforts of many stakeholders across the district. It is widely-known that the FISD is thriving and its more than 55,000 students and roughly 6,500 employees exude that pride both inside the classroom and out. This only further illustrates the great things going on across the district. The efforts of students and instructors are a testament to the numerous awards earned in past years, and 2016 has been no different! This year, the FISD was honored as one of the Best Communities for Music Education in the U.S. in 2016 for its outstanding commitment to music education.

The Best Communities for Music Education designation is awarded to districts that demonstrate outstanding achievement in efforts to provide music access and education to all students. The FISD is among 476 districts nationwide that received this prestigious award from the National Association of Music Merchants, a national nonprofit foundation. The FISD also won this coveted award in 2013.

Preston Hazzard, the FISD assistant director of fine arts, attributes the district’s success in music education to the strong programs across the spectrum of the fine arts opportunities offered. He explains, “We have community and administrative support for the fine arts in the FISD, so there is an expectation of excellence in our community, and our directors, students and parents all work very hard to meet those expectations.” Mr. Hazzard also believes that much of the success achieved by the school district’s music education programs can be attributed to the collaborative efforts of the music teachers and directors across the district. “We have our high school music teachers and directors reaching down to the middle schools and elementary schools, while, at the same time, the elementary campuses are reaching up through middle all the way to the high school to create this seamless experience for kids, and that is really the way we have designed our curriculum, so there are not learning gaps.”

In addition to the highly-esteemed Best Community for Music Education award, music students from Lone Star High School (LSHS) and Liberty High School have both earned national awards this year that not many music groups can say they have won. The LSHS Percussion Ensemble is one of only three high school groups selected internationally to perform at the Percussive Arts Society International Clinic (PASIC) convention, scheduled for November 9-12, in Indianapolis, Ind. It is the highest recognition that a high school percussion program can receive. More than 5,000 music educators attend the PASIC recording clinic each year where artists, composers, educators and performers come together for a weekend of performances, professional development and networking. The LSHS Percussion Ensemble submitted recordings as part of an open call contest to earn the opportunity to perform at the convention. Four out of the six judges gave the school a perfect score, a rare accomplishment.

Of the group’s success, LSHS band director, Tim Golden, shares, “These percussion students have worked as hard as any young people I have been around. They are smart, talented and dedicated. They also have great attitudes. When you combine all of those factors, it makes their potential limitless.” While LSHS is still young (the school opened in 2010), Mr. Golden admits that such an esteemed award substantiates the hard work the students put in. “Being a relatively new school, it really validates everything we have done to build our program. Our district has given us the resources to teach these fine young people, and the students have trusted us. They literally try and do everything we ask of them to the best of their ability. That is pretty special.” Mr. Golden admits that the success his program has seen could not be achieved without the district-level support and resources his program has been able to utilize. He explains, “The FISD provided everything we needed as a band program to hit the ground running. This band room had chairs, stands, lockers, podiums, etc. when we opened. I was able to order all the instruments we needed through bond money. In many cases throughout the nation, students have to fundraise with parents just to get a band program started. We are very blessed.”

The LSHS band president and head drum major, Allison Allen, attests to the level of excellence the FISD instills in music education students as a catalyst for the success they achieve through their studies. Ms. Allen shares, “It starts in our elementary and middle schools, building a solid foundation in this endless pursuit of excellence. Receiving the PASIC award truly demonstrates how we as individuals strive to make ourselves better for the benefit of our entire organization. The students and staff truly care not just about our performance and awards, but about the learning process and growth of us as individuals. We pursue to be the best we can possibly be, nothing less. Our knowledge of music is continually built upon by those dedicated staff members who we owe much of our success for the strong foundation that has been made for us to build upon. We also recognize our student leaders as high contributors to our success.”

Liberty High School’s Symphony Orchestra, comprised of students from the Camerata Orchestra and Wind Symphony, accomplished a rare feat as the group was selected to perform at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago, Ill., on December 16. Students will perform a 10:45 a.m. concert for international musicians and music educators during the clinic, which serves as one of the largest conventions for music education. Performing ensembles from all over the world submit recordings in hopes of being invited to perform at the clinic. Only three full symphony orchestras are selected. It is the first time a full orchestra from the FISD has been chosen. It is a tremendous and rare honor for the students involved and an incredible recognition of their talents given that this was the first year of their submittal and entry into the process.

Liberty director of orchestras, Julie Blackstock, says the accomplishment was a validation of student efforts. She shares “For the students at Liberty, I believe it was the moment they realized that working hard, being committed and having a good work ethic pays off. Hours of rehearsal, personal practice, before and after school sectionals and rehearsals resulted in the invitation to Midwest. The students’ reactions to that were priceless. They were in shock, but were very excited. To perform on an international stage is the pinnacle of their musical experiences thus far. The growth in self-confidence and self-worth was staggering. Pride in themselves and their organization reached a new level!” Ms. Blackstock believes the group’s accomplishment will serve as motivation for all music education students across the district. “I hope this will be a catalyst for all the music programs in the FISD. It is important for us to realize that all of our schools have the ability to compete and succeed on a national level. Our students across the district are more than capable of achieving these honors. Many students and programs already have! Hopefully, the upcoming students will want to be a part of these phenomenal organizations. The future of music education in our district is incredibly bright!”

Ms. Blackstock believes that support from a number of stakeholders also serves as a testament to the success of the FISD’s music education programs. She explains, “Success depends on so much — student drive and commitment, parental support and encouragement, administrative presence and dedication. We are tremendously lucky in the FISD to experience all of these. Our students also have access to incredible private instruction. Parents are willing to give their children those opportunities for growth. Our administration, from the campus level to the central office, is supportive of our extra events and the world-class musicians and instructors we bring in to work with the students. The support we enjoy is not always readily accessible in other areas. This is certainly something that separates the FISD from other school districts.”

Grant Buss, a Liberty High School orchestra senior, shares Ms. Blackstock’s sentiments regarding the success of the music education programs across the district. He says, “Ms. Blackstock is a very passionate teacher who pushes us to work very hard every day. I would credit our success to the amazing teachers who carry us through middle school into high school. Without them, we would not be as advanced as we are today. The FISD has invested immensely in our fine arts programs. My sister is a harp player. Without the great support of our district, I do not think my sister would have the chance to play such a beautiful instrument. It is just incredible how much we are blessed with at our schools, homes and districts in North Texas. We are blessed.”

Blessed, supported, invested, lucky … that is how the students and teachers/directors of music education programs in the FISD describe the efforts of the district and community in supporting the mission and vision of a large percentage of students pursuing excellence in the field of music. “It is really about creating those life-changing experiences,” Mr. Hazzard admits. “Our music directors are very mindful in using music to make the kids, not the other way around, so that plays into the depth we have here.” It has always been said that Frisco is a great place to be, and, admittedly, along with the other numerous and wildly-successful programs, it has very much earned its distinction as one of the Best Communities for Music Education.

While the success is palpable, the sky is the limit for Frisco’s music education programs, with the unparalleled level of commitment and excellence they have achieved and continue to strive for. “This honor is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our talented teachers who put in long hours coaching students and building our outstanding music programs,” says the FISD fine arts director, Richard Oldham. “Thanks to the support of parents, administrators, school board members and the community, our students have multiple opportunities to participate and excel at the highest levels.”

FISD music programs perform many holiday programs, concerts and performances throughout November and December. For more information on the school district’s music education programs and holiday season events, visit friscoisd.org.

Allie Spletter

Allie Spletter is a wannabe foodie and lover of all things pink and crafty.