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Raising the bar: Belchertown elementary school to provide piano education to all students

  • Geoffrey Gould teaches a first grade music class at Swift River Elementary School in Belchertown where in February he will start a piano lab where every student will have the opportunity to learn piano. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Geoffrey Gould teaches a first-grade music class at the Swift River Elementary School in Belchertown. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Geoffrey Gould teaches a first grade music class at Swift River Elementary School in Belchertown where in February he will start a piano lab where every student will have the opportunity to learn piano. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Geoffrey Gould teaches a first-grade music class at Swift River Elementary School in Belchertown, where in February he will start a piano lab where every student will have the opportunity to learn piano. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Geoffrey Gould teaches a first grade music class at Swift River Elementary School in Belchertown where in February he will start a piano lab where every student will have the opportunity to learn piano. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Sunday, October 28, 2018

BELCHERTOWN — A new piano lab set to be installed at Swift River Elementary School will provide all students with a basic piano education by the time they finish third grade.

The collegiate level piano lab, which is planned to open at the school in February, will include 12 Yamaha Clavinova CLP-635 pianos. The pianos feature a split key functionality that allows two students to a piano, accommodating up to 24 students at a time during music class.

Geoffrey Gould, a music teacher at Swift River Elementary School, said that the investment in the piano lab is part of a push toward recognizing music lessons as a vital aspect of a well-rounded education.

“As time goes by, there was a stigma that music was just an elective, and all the data that’s been coming out over this past decade is saying that music is one of the most important, if not critical classes that students should have,” Gould said.

The entire project will cost $30,000, Gould said, with $10,000 of the funding coming from a private donation by Matthew Jackson, a class of 1996 Belchertown High School graduate and owner of Re/Max Swift River Valley real estate agency.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Gould said. “It was just an unbelievable donation.”

Gould said that he grew up with Jackson, who approached him in hopes of giving back to the community through the music program.

“(Jackson) wasn’t a musician growing up, which to me is one of the highly impressive things our music program has done for the community,” Gould said. “Even people who aren’t musicians in our community recognize the value.”

The remaining $20,000 will come from in-school and public funds, Gould said. The school is also looking to partner with different groups in town to help fund the lab.

Piano lessons will take place during students’ normal music classes, which they attend once a week for 45 minutes. Students will continue to receive both vocal and instrumental music education in these classes with the launch of the piano lab, which will be installed into a pre-existing music classroom.

The project also leaves room for future expansion, Gould said, with space for up to 25 pianos available.

Gould said that teachers will more commonly establish makeshift piano labs, but that collegiate quality piano labs are out of the ordinary for an elementary school.

“To have a collegiate level piano lab digitally tied into the teacher’s console, which will be me, is pretty unprecedented,” he said.

Jacqueline Smith, a music education lecturer at UMass Amherst, agreed with Gould’s assessment, noting that she has also not heard of a similar piano lab at the elementary school level.

Smith added that the program targets students at the “optimal age for them to learn music lessons.”

“Piano is the perfect foundation, and it’s all the basics of music theory and note reading, fine motor coordination, everything else you need to play an instrument,” Smith said.

Smith said that while music lessons do not actually increase a student’s intelligence, the lessons do help to connect neural pathways and teach students how to collaborate with others, focus and understand creativity and emotion, which can contribute to better performances in school.

Over the past year, Belchertown Public Schools have seen something of a piano renaissance. In January, the district received six free pianos from Westfield State University, which Gould also facilitated, as the result of an anonymous $1.1 million donation to the institution. The six pianos were given to Belchertown High School and Chestnut Hill Community School.

“People are starting to call me the piano man around town,” Gould said.

Gould said that the school is hoping to have the piano lab installed by February vacation, with lessons ideally starting when students return from the break.

Students will work through at least a beginner book of piano lessons over the course of their lessons, he added, with an “optimistic goal” of also working through a second piano book.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.