When John Ashley became principal at Murdock Elementary in 2008, one of his hopes was to have a Winter Holiday Concert. When Lisa Stewart became the PTA President at Murdock, one of her hopes was to have the PTA use fundraising to support some sort of arts or music education program to replace the ones lost due to budget cuts. These two dreams came to a wonderful intersection on Monday when Murdock hosted its first Winter Holiday Concert in over a decade. A performance enabled both by the enthusiasm of Principal Ashley and the PTA supported music education program.
Mrs. Stewart, Murdock PTA President from 2009 to 2011, was deeply concerned by the gradual removal of dedicated elementary arts education as a result of deep cuts to the La Mesa Spring Valley School District’s state funding. After holding discussions with her PTA board and other concerned parents, the PTA voted to fund a music education program, to enrich the student’s experiences while waiting for a return to district funding of arts education in the future. Lisa stated; “Music allows kids to explore other cultures while exercising the brain's creative thinking areas. Plus, music uses reading skills, social studies, and math (rhythm, beats, counting) which strengthens a student's overall learning experience.”
The music program began in spring 2011 but there was not enough time in the remaining school year for a performance. After resuming lessons in the following school year, a special evening of art, geography, and music was held in May 2012 with the centerpiece being a multi grade concert. After further discussions between the PTA and school administration, a decision was made to begin the following school years music classes by early September to support the goal of a Winter Holiday Concert.
Each grade has a dedicated weekly time for music with instructor Elizabeth Valdez. In addition to learning songs, Mrs. Valdez teaches age appropriate lessons on instruments, rhythm, notation, and music around the world. She also attempts to link some of the lessons to regular classroom subjects. Valdez noted that there is much scientific research indicating that children exposed to regular arts and music education are more likely to develop stronger critical thinking skills and even tend to do better on standardized tests. She also greatly values the role of music in helping children develop empathy and understanding of different cultures.
During the Monday evening concert, the school was decorated with festive holiday lights and sparkling tinsel. To accommodate the huge audience, the performances took place outdoors, and fortunately the weather cooperated. Children, dressed in a mix ranging from winter wear to formal, smiled and enthusiastically sang a diverse program of traditional and unique holiday music. Songs included Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Up on the Housetop, and Rise Up Shepherd and Follow. Fourth and fifth graders danced a traditional Hanukkah Horah, and sixth grade student JJ Bond accompanied his classmates on guitar through a spirited rendition of Feliz Navidad.
To further the festive atmosphere, the PTA sold hot cocoa and other treats, parent Angela Johnson played sing along carols in the Auditorium, and children made holiday cards to be given to children at the Polinsky Center or to the USO for servicepersons passing through San Diego. Finally, no winter holiday event would be complete without a visit from Santa himself, who merrily held court passing out candy canes and hearing the Christmas list wishes of many many children.
Despite one or two unexpected parking issues, Principal Ashley was thrilled with the concert event. He stated, “The Winter Concert was a huge success! We must have had close to a thousand people here. The students did an excellent job, and it was a wonderful way to enter into the holiday break and season.” He also thanked Mrs. Valdez, the Murdock staff, parent volunteers, and the PTA for funding the music education program. Ashley hopes that this will become an annual tradition at Murdock.