St. Anthony of Padua’s music program exposes students to three instruments

Music class is a serious – and fun – endeavor at St. Anthony of Padua School in New Orleans.

All students, ages 2 through seventh grade, receive music throughout the school year, with students in kindergarten and up getting a weekly two hours of instruction. By the time they graduate in seventh grade, students have been taught to play three instruments – the recorder, the keyboard and the guitar. They also learn to sing in five languages: English, Spanish, German, Latin and Polish.

“I am so proud, I have tears in my eyes,” said Dominican Sister of Peace Ruth Angelette, school principal, after hearing the progression of musical skills exhibited by her students at an end-of-year concert. “Every child in school is included in our music program,” Sister Ruth told the assembled parents. “Music is not just for those who feel they have talent; every child has talent and every child can be taught to appreciate music.”

Leading the school’s ambitious program is Dorota “Ms. Dora” Malkinska, a native of Poland. Malkinska, who earned her master’s degree in music education from Warsaw’s prestigious Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, taught in her homeland for 12 years before relocating to New Orleans in 2000. She is in her seventh year at St. Anthony – long enough to see her instrument-based program come to full flower.

“It’s a pleasure to see them working every day and growing so, so much,” Malkinska said, noting that she has students as young as second graders writing their own songs. “They’re so creative! They inspire me!”

Malkinska, whose major instruments include the piano, clarinet, saxophone and violin, teaches students their first instrument – the recorder – beginning in first grade. She continues teaching them on the valuable woodwind for the remainder of their time in elementary school.

“This is a wonderful instrument because it is so similar to the clarinet and saxophone, so when they get older, it is much easier to learn these instruments,” Malkinska notes.

Students take up the keyboard in fifth grade and learn how to use it to arrange their own music. Guitar, taught to sixth and seventh graders, rounds out St. Anthony’s instrumental offerings. Students also can take part in choir and band, the latter available to students for the first time this school year following a long absence.

Two music classrooms, equipped with 14 electronic keyboards, 14 guitars and SMART Boards, make music time “more attractive and effective,” said Malkinska, who makes CDs to use as accompaniment for her singing and playing students.

“Her class has really opened me up to other instruments; I would have probably only played the piano,” said sixth grader Kennedi Sigur, who just completed her first year of guitar and also plays trumpet in the band. Kennedi said the fact that all of her classmates play multiple instruments has helped them to build confidence and learn to play in front of an audience.

“Ms. Dora writes all the notes on the SMART Board so everyone in the class can see them,” Kennedi said. “She usually does one measure at a time; it helps us really process all the notes. By the time you get to guitar, you know the notes already because you’ve already dealt with them on recorder and keyboard.”

Seventh grader Kristen Larche agreed that once you master the basics of one instrument, playing another one “becomes elementary.”

“It’s like, “Wow! I can play this song!’” Kristen said. “Music is a pretty good counselor because it helps you express yourself,” she said, “and it’s good for the memory.”

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