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Music education: It accompanies life

A pianist connects the discipline to better testing scores and urges students to look to contemporary composers for great works still to come.

By MICHELLE MILLER, Times Staff Writer
Published January 25, 2008

Music student Damon Ford, 16, listens to concert pianist Justin Kolb, who played and lectured at Hudson High School on why serious music students excel as evidenced by SAT scores and other standardized tests.
[Janel Schroeder-Norton | Times]
[Janel Schroeder-Norton | Times]
Justin Kolb collapses on the piano's keys after playing a 10-minute-long piece for students. Kolb visited Hudson High School to explain why music students excel.

[Janel Schroeder-Norton | Times]
Justin Kolb plays El Salon Mexico during a session at Hudson High School.

[Janel Schroeder-Norton | Times]
Kolb describes how the class he spoke to was now linked to Ludwig van Beethoven through learning.


Pianist Justin Kolb is the luckiest guy in the world. 

At least from his vantage point.

"People actually pay me to do what I love to do," he recently told a class of freshman band students at Hudson High School. "I make my living by making people happier."

No doubt many who attend Kolb's piano recitals leave with a lift in their step. 

A little Liszt, Mozart or Copland can do that kind of thing.

Others, perhaps, come away with a new kind of inspiration.

Like saxophone player Tiffany Taylor, who has taken to dying her hair in purple and pink hues these days.

"It made me feel good to see someone doing something they really love," she said after hearing Kolb's exuberant 10-minute performance of Aaron Copland's El Salon Mexico. "It made me want to do more with my saxophone."

That's wonderful, but just the tip of the iceberg as to what Kolb is trying to do.

Over the years, the 65-year-old pianist from New York's Catskill Mountains has made a satisfying living performing in places like Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and concert halls in Chicago, Baltimore, Canada, Europe and the Middle East.

But for 20 years he has also been making the rounds at schools throughout the country. There he gives presentations for administrators, teachers, students and their parents on the importance of music education.

Last week, Kolb was in town for the final performance for the Music@the Library program that has been disbanded after losing state funding. He also put on presentations for students at Hudson High, Bayonet Point Middle, Hudson Middle and Mary Giella Elementary.

At Hudson High he spoke to four separate classes and some parents, too, telling about the studies that show that as a community, serious music students perform higher on the SAT and other standardized tests than nonmusic students.

"You are special," he told students. "You are empowered."

In between performances, Kolb sprinkled words of advice, encouraging students to seek out contemporary composers, particularly women such as Stella Sung, a professor of music composition at the University of Central Florida.

"I do not believe all great music is written by dead men who live in music," he said. "We have great composers who are alive."

Kolb wrapped up his visit by asking students to collectively compile a list of skills that music has helped them develop that help them with academics or a future job.

Among the attributes students listed: patience, listening, memorization, attention to detail, determination, organization and the ability to blend and work with others as a team.

"Take that list with you," Kolb said, advising them to share it with their parents or other adults who question the value of private lessons or music education.

Those lists are of special value to Danielle Bishop, 17, a piccolo and flute player who also serves as the band's captain.

"I never thought about it music in that way before," she said.

Hudson High band director Terry Adams also sees the value in those lists - particularly if those in power pay attention to the benefits music brings.

Music and arts programs are often the first to suffer when it's time to cut budgets.

In the past two years, Adams has seen her band classes dwindle from 71 to 51 students.

The length of Pasco County's school day has long been a hurdle for elective-class teachers like Adams. Ever since the Florida Legislature limited educational funding to a six-period day - rather than the traditional seven-period day - college-bound kids have often had to choose academic courses, such as a required second foreign language, instead of a music, art or vocational class. Now, mandatory intensive reading classes for those who have failed the FCAT have dealt another serious blow. Those reading classes take the place of electives.

That's tough, said Adams. Still, Kolb's presentations were "uplifting and insightful," she said. "Especially for the parents. I think they learned that it's not just about music. It's about other values, too."

Fast facts:

On the Web

For information on pianist Justin Kolb and his educational programs, visit

[Last modified January 24, 2008, 21:29:16]

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