Rochester, NY — When you’re about to launch a new concept that radically departs from tradition within an already conservative industry, all the stars need to be in alignment. Fortunately, that’s exactly what Eastman School of Music Professor Richard Grunow has aligned — musical stars — providing "sound models" for an innovative approach to teaching and learning music, Jump Right In. "It’s a bit like your kid having a daily coaching session with Jascha Heifetz," says Grunow, chair of Eastman’s music education department.
Dr. Grunow didn’t have to look much further than down the hall to his Eastman colleagues for world-class performers as models on the home-study CDs that accompany the interactive instrumental series, which likens learning an instrument to learning one’s native language. The string, wind, brass, and percussion players modeling the melodies on the CDs are well-known soloists and chamber musicians in their own right. In spite of their busy schedules, they were willing and eager to make time for some lengthy recording sessions.
The Eastman artists — along with notable performers from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and a few other special guests — have nothing but raves about the project. "Hearing and singing the recorded melodies enable students to more quickly perform them on their instruments, as well as play from notation," says Kenneth Grant, Eastman professor of clarinet and principal clarinet of the Rochester Philharmonic. "The beauty and variety of the chosen tunes make the Jump Right In series a wonderful way for anyone — beginning, intermediate or advanced — to be able to close the gap between what one hears and what one sees on the page."
As principal author of this newly revised series by GIA Publications, Inc., Grunow — with co-author Eastman Associate Professor Christopher Azzara — engaged the professional musicians to perform more than 350 folk songs and classical melodies embracing many centuries, styles, and cultures. Azzara, also an accomplished jazz pianist, played on and directed the recording of a variety of accompaniments for those performances with numerous members of the Eastman faculty. Legendary jazz guitarist and frequent Eastman guest artist, Gene Bertoncini, is featured on many of the recordings as well.
Dr. Grunow, an active clinician and frequent lecturer throughout the United States, and in Canada, Europe, and Japan, explains the Jump Right In premise: “In language," he said, "children learn how to speak and carry on a conversation for several years before they are taught to read. We wouldn’t think of asking a child to read if he couldn’t speak. With this ‘sound before sight’ approach, students learn to sing and improvise (conversation in language) before learning to read music." Grunow explains further: "In traditional approaches to teaching beginning instrumental music, students are immediately introduced to notation. They learn to manipulate the instrument, but many do not really comprehend what they are playing. That’s just one reason often less then 10 percent of those who begin music instruction in the elementary grades continue through high school. They’ve never achieved musical independence."
Jump Right In is used in many classrooms throughout the United States — with impressive results — and translations are currently underway in Germany and Japan. Eastman alumna Dina Alexander (B.M., 1985, M.M., 1988) uses Jump Right In exclusively with her elementary students in the Greece, New York Central School District. "As a result," she boasts, "my students’ level of musicianship often far exceeds their grade level." The series is based on extensive practical and experimental research on the music learning theory of Edwin E. Gordon, renowned author, researcher, and graduate of the Eastman School of Music. Gordon is also a co-author of the series.