Seattle’s historic Moore Theater showcased Synergia Northwest’s unique celebration of music and music education May 18. The night opened with 12-year-old Caspian Coberly ripping a Jimi Hendrix-inspired rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” From there, the evening seamlessly blended rap, rock, the Garfield High School drum line, pop and classical music.
The stage held plenty of rock star power, including Michael Shrieve (Santana), Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses), and a host of well-known area musicians. The Synergia Northwest Orchestra — music teachers, freelancers, college students and dedicated amateurs — backed the rock acts and filled the interludes with classical music, including excerpts from “The Nutcracker” and the “William Tell Overture.” You’ve never experienced the kind of artistic whiplash you get from hearing a heavy metal break followed by “Dance of the Toy Soldiers.”
There were spectacular moments of virtuosity and energy, exciting collaborations and surreal musical pairings. The sight and sound of so many successful performing artists giving of their time and talent to advance music education was inspirational.
You know the story. In an era of straitened education funding, many schools have cut back on their music programs. Band starts later. Choir gets slighted. Before they have a chance to engage in music, a lot of students have become involved in other pursuits.
Don’t blame the overdue commitment to Common Core Standards, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) emphasis and academic accountability. But resources are limited, and school boards and administrators make choices.
Synergia Northwest is now in its fourth year. Previously the group helped promote the Music Matters license plate to raise money for public school music programs. This year’s concert benefits Seattle Music Partners’ after-school program providing free music lessons to underserved elementary school students in Seattle’s Central District.
Seattle musician Michael McMorrow is Synergia Northwest’s executive producer and music director. His vision and drive draws world-class performers to the annual concerts.
“We definitely are making an impact and . . . foresee more opportunity for young kids to be involved in music programs,” McMorrow says on the organization’s website. “The absolute uniqueness of this event coupled with the vast talent and community oriented business leaders right here in the Northwest are creating the perfect storm for success.”
This is personal for me. Last year, my son Justin was lead guitar player for one of the night’s top bands. He mentioned to McMorrow, who was looking for horn players, that I played. That was my first exposure to Synergia Northwest. Justin was a featured performer again this year, and I again sat in with the orchestra, directed by Bret Smith. A music education faculty member at Central Washington University, Smith put in long hours in rehearsal and in writing orchestra parts to go with the rock performances.
In an email, Smith explains his dedication to the project.
“The ‘classical’ and ‘pop/contemporary’ music worlds all consist of people who got some help along the way from teachers, mentors, family members (and) community music organizations,” he says. “Synergia means joint work, cooperative action, moving together.” He calls that an apt description of this effort to boost community awareness and financial support for music education.
Researchers and teachers identify positive educational benefits from music training, which has been linked to improved academic performance, discipline, teamwork, coordination, and enhanced math and reading skills. The tech world’s musical affinity is well-documented. Paul Allen’s passion for guitar may be extreme, but not unusual.
The Synergia NW concert came just before Memorial Day. After World War II, my father returned from occupied Japan to resume his career as a band director in the Midwest. He focused on beginning students, wanting to be certain every child got off to a good start.
I thought of him, veteran and educator, last weekend, remembering the joy and pride he took in his students’ success. From his place on heaven’s bandstand, he must surely delight in seeing the torch carried on for another generation.
The significance of arts education will perhaps always be contested in legislative and school budget deliberations. For now, let’s celebrate the great work done by those who work creatively to assure every child gets a chance to experience the joy of making music.Bainbridge Island resident Richard S. Davis is president of the Washington Research Council. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.