Catherine Michelsen firmly believes music improves the quality of life for everyone, no matter his or her individuality.
She’s thrilled to be able to teach the subject she is so ardent about to youngsters at Morning Star Catholic School, a private institution overseen by the Diocese of St. Petersburg, where all of its 75 students ages 6 through 13 have been diagnosed with learning impediments, including autism and hearing impairments. Morning Star is located at 210 E. Linebaugh Ave. in Tampa.
“This kids’ enthusiasm makes up for their disabilities,” said Michelsen, a Patel Conservatory performing arts instructor at the Straz Center who, for the last four years has taught periodic music classes at the North Tampa school as well as at others scattered throughout the county.
This year, however, her visits to the school have become more frequent, thanks in part to a $5,000, three-month contact Patel was granted from the Kennedy Center in association with the VSA of Florida.
The contract also has helped fund the cost of hiring Sharon Graham, Patel’s new certified musical therapist who also pays an occasional visit to Morning Star as well as to other Tampa Bay area schools for challenged children.
Daniel Powell, chairman of the Patel Conservatory’s music department, noted the contract is one of the first of its kind ever granted.
“Our hope was that it would improve music functionality for special needs kids and it has. Morning Star is really a magical place,” he said.
School principal Eileen Daly concurred, noting that in 25 years she’s served at the school, music instruction was sporadic, until last year when it partnered with Patel, a move that set the stage for the contract.
“Music is a personal passion of mine and I can really see the children shine,” said Daly, who spoke specifically of the poise and confidence the youngsters exhibited during their rehearsals for the school’s Christmas presentation to parents.
“It’s an honor to have high quality music teachers here,” she said.
During a recent class session with the school’s seventh- and eighth-grade students, Michelsen’s instruction was focused on how musical notes were imprinted on paper prior to Johann Gutenberg’s 1448 invention of the printing press.
The process, she explained, involved painstakingly carving them on blocks of wood and pressing the inked blocks onto the paper.
Eleven-year-old Christopher Garcia was totally intrigued by the procedure.
“It was cool how they had to write the music notes backwards before they printed them, like in a mirror,” he said.
Shane McHenry, 14, described the technique as “neat.”
“I didn’t know a lot about how they printed things, but now I’m interested in all the stuff they did back in the day,” he said.
The students’ music curriculum also includes singing and learning to play hand instruments. The youngsters also were treated to a musical performance at the Straz.
“Students who have this experience usually soar,” Powell said. “I take this seriously and I’d like to expand the contract another three months if we can.”
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]