POSTED ON FEBRUARY 22, 2012:
Listening to the Sun
Tulsa's Barthelmes music enterprise is resplendent
Sometimes, Tulsa's stellar institutions are just so shiny you can't say enough about them. If you are in just the right spot and you listen just so, on a weekday on any late afternoon, until about 9pm, you might hear a violin, a piano array, the thunder of African drums or all of these sounds: you should know that they come from a wild conjunction of kids, adults and a fevered posse of music instructors.
I recently attended a sort of "facilities improvements" launch party at the Barthelmes Music School/Conservatory. This mini-school/student music lab operation is located on the ninth floor of the old Sun Oil building at 9th and Detroit in downtown Tulsa. This singular venture started in 2001 with 14 K-12 students and 7 faculty members. The effort is organized by Joe and Debbie Hull's family foundation and partially capitalized by the late Hedwig and Albert Barthelmes.
The Bartelmes' were Hitler era immigrants -- a couple of very talented newcomers who have helped craft a transformative asset that is like no others in Tulsa. The "B-School" is a fascinating ensemble of a pre/after and summer school, music conservatory and agile music-learning laboratory. Inspired in part by former OSU education professor Dr. Debbie Hull's deep understanding of connection between music achievement, mathematics and other domains like hers and Joe's many visits to the Berkley School of Music in Boston, the operation here has exposed hundreds of Tulsa kids to music -- including a bevy of modest income kids who have secured instruments and top-flight instruction from Tulsa's best musical professionals.
Having started out at a small space at OSU Tulsa the school has moved several times. The operation was founded in 2001 as a prototype/pilot program at the University Methodist Church at the University of Tulsa campus. It is formally a 501(c)(3) organization with 66 students in its formal school operation, 140 in its less structured, multi-generational "center" offering and dozens of mostly TPS kids who are exposed to the shops of site outreach efforts.
Details aside, Barthelmes has a true spectrum of alliances including a long-standing nexus to Tulsa Community Foundation, the Tulsa Arts and Humanities Council, Tulsa Symphony Orchestra Chamber Music Tulsa and others. Importantly, according to Executive Director Kate Reeves, almost all of the 27 faculty folks at Barthelmes are practicing musicians who are at the core of Tulsa's performance universe.
Barthelmes is organized around three big components including its music school, which is essentially a high-level college preparatory music initiative that provides all-encompassing training, instrument lessons and music theory: this element accepts students on the basis of an inventive musical aptitude evaluation process -- all students admitted are given full scholarships.
The "school" piece is rigorously crafted around the principals of the Russian musical instruction regimea discipline that focuses heavily on ear training, hand techniques, very intensive practice and deep exposure to music history and theory.
It's a martial program, from Russia with love, if you get it.
The second element of the venture -- the Music Center, is a facility that non-musicians like yours truly, can plug into at any time. The Music Center is an open program designed for kids and adults alike and is fashioned fundamentally for anyone who wants a structured exposure to music.
Supplementing these two on-site, formal programs is an outreach program, which the School has run almost from the beginning. Currently "B-school" offerings are to be found at some TPS locations, but at least one private/parochial school -- the historic Holy Family Cathedral School downtown.
Reeves told me that this element of the Bartlemes program has been challenged by recent TPS cut backs -- she said Barthelmes was making a multifold effort to secure compensatory funding to continue an endeavor that is the only sustained exposure to music instruments and formal instruction that many modest income TPS kids will receive in a school setting. Kids at these spots get weekly or bi-weekly instrumental classes.
You Might Still Become A Music Star
We could argue that there are two competing notions at play at Barthelmes. One is the notion popularized by New Yorker writer/author Malcolm Gladwell's in his book Outliers -- a notion that's tightly consistent with the touchstone Russian regime that typifies Barthelmes' formal music school offerings.
Writer/musician/psychologist David Levitin and Galdwell both call it a "10,000 hour rule." Most adults who don't already know how to read music or play an instrument would have grave difficulty finding 20 hours a week to get up to speed.
There's a competing conception. Best represented by a new book from NYU cognitive/learning systems guru Gary Marcus. Marcus decided to take up guitar, at 38, after wanting to do so for many years -- the new book is his evidence based, personal mediation of learning an instrument as a middle aged adult. The book's formal title is Guitar Zero: The New Musician And The Science of Learning.
In a recent New York Times review, writer Bruce Healm says that Marcus's book is "... an effort to reconcile his lifelong passion for music with his self-admitted chronic musical inaptitude... Marcus set out to debunk one of science's longest-running theories about learning -- that there are "critical periods" in which complex skills can be learned, and that they slam shut after adolescence.
If critical periods aren't quite so firm as people once believed, a world of possibility emerges for the many adults who harbor secret dreams -- whether to learn a language, to become a pastry chef, or to pilot a small plane... "Are musicians born or made?" Marcus ask," What is the line between skill and talent in any domain, and can we acquire either later in life?" The book is (I just got it) a -- riveting journey into, what Marcus calls," the limits of human reinvention."
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