PAI brings storytelling and music to students

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PAI brings storytelling and music to students
Students enjoying a field trip during a PAI initiativeOlympia School District students from four elementary schools, one middle school, and two high schools recently attended a performance by a music group called Che Apalache. This performance was sponsored by the Performing Arts Initiative (PAI) and was performed at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. The purpose of the PAI is to enhance students’ opportunities to enjoy the performing arts. One of the PAI’s goals is to reach students who don’t have equal access to the performing arts. PAI performances cover a wide range of the performing arts. Professional storytelling, comedy, music, poetry, opera and more are brought to our students through this initiative. Funding is mainly provided by the Dawkins Charitable Trust, as well as through grants and private donors. Schools occasionally pay a small fee to host or attend PAI performances.

The idea for the PAI began five years ago with a conversation between Anne Larsen Matheson, a former President of Olympia School District Education Foundation (OSDEF), and PAI Director Bob Hodges, concerning how the Olympia School District could better partner with the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. This initiative is a collaboration between the OSD and the OSDEF. “The thing I like best about this program is its focus on equity: we are able to bring the performing arts to so many students who would not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy them. We also support our local performing artists and arts organizations by providing extra opportunities to perform,” says Hodges. The PAI works with the performers for discounted prices, bundling multiple shows for the school district. “Bob Hodges is truly a master of helping make sure these funds touch as many students as possible,” says Katy Johansson, Executive Director of OSDEF.

Latin Grass performsThe performance by Che Apalache was a recent example of the PAI initiative at work, with funding provided by the Barker Family Trust. Che Apalache blends the Bluegrass-style of the Appalachian Mountains with vigorous Latin style music in a style dubbed “Latin Grass.” Band members are from Argentina, Mexico and North Carolina. Musical instruments include banjo, guitar, fiddle and mandolin. The performers engaged the students with stories behind the songs, as well as a lesson on how to pronounce the word “Appalachian” correctly. Joe Troop, the band’s fiddler, talked with students about the importance of music and how it helps the brain grow. Troop, a North Carolina native, asked students the difference between a violin and a fiddle. “A fiddle has ‘strangs,’” he told students in his southern drawl. Hodges says the performance received “rave reviews from the kids.”

Students were captivated with the band members’ love of music through a variety of playful sounds. Troop created a seagull’s call by lightly drawing his finger up and down the D string and drawing raspily on his bow. “What I love most about the PAI is the laughter I hear from the kids -- or the dancing or singing they can’t help but express -- when they are enjoying a show. I also love knowing that, thanks to the PAI, our students have access to quality performances,” says Johansson.

In addition to bringing students to the performing arts in the community, the PAI also brings the arts into schools. Just before Veterans Day weekend, storyteller Jim Cogan performed at Centennial Elementary School. Cogan is a former school principal and nationally recognized storyteller. After inviting the students to tell him what they thought a veteran was, Cogan said, “Let me start with a story. There was a city called Athens.” He told students about the king of the Persians; a man named Darius. He imitated the king, making his voice go deep and then cackling with laughter. Students burst out laughing throughout the assembly. “The kids were fully engaged with his energy and storytelling style. They liked the voices he gave all the characters,” said Principal Shannon Ritter. Ritter enjoyed seeing how the stories reached both the younger and older students. “The kids also thought it was neat that he used to be a principal. The performance was the perfect lead-in to our Veterans Day,” said Ritter.

PAI performer at elementary schoolCogan concluded his story with the battle and victory on the Plains of Marathon. The next story Cogan told was from the American Revolution. He talked with students about the brave soldiers. “One of them was a woman who talked pretty tough and rough. Her name was Molly,” Cogan said. “Molly was always running to help the soldiers and bring them water. They called her Molly Pitcher.” Cogan then explained about Molly’s courage during a battle and her commendation by George Washington after the battle. “I liked how passionate he was when he told stories,” said a fifth-grader. Another student added: “A couple of the stories will stay with me.”

Last school year the PAI enabled more than 19,000 students to view the performing arts. We look forward to future PAI performances throughout our 2019-20 school year. What a wonderful way to show our students and community the importance of music, storytelling and other performing arts.