The Halls are Alive With the Sound of Music

<b>The Halls are Alive With the Sound of Music</b>“></td>
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<p>(<a href=NewsUSA) – As students purchase No. 2 pencils and notebooks, parents and teachers might want to think about putting something else on back-to-school lists — musical instruments.

Numerous studies demonstrate that musical education benefits children both in and out of the classroom. One study from Columbia University found that students in the arts are more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self-confident and better able to express their ideas. Students in music programs show higher IQs than their peers, and art programs have been proven to boost critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

A study by Patricia Shehan Campbell, Ph.D., of the University of Washington examined essays by 1,155 teenagers on school music programs. The essays revealed that music gives teens the freedom to be themselves, as well as a creative and emotional outlet.

With music programs being cut across the country, independent organizations are working hard to help students access musical educations. For example, NAMM, the 109-year-old trade association of the international music products industry, has launched the non-profit Wanna Play Fund (www.nammfoundation.org) to support programs and activities that strengthen music education in schools. Endorsed by Mike Huckabee, a bass player and former governor of Arkansas, the Wanna Play Fund uses donations to fund community-based music programs and provide musical instruments to schools.

Another NAMM-sponsored program, SchoolJam USA, encourages teenagers to form bands through a unique, all-teen battle-of-the-bands competition. Amateur bands with members aged 13-19 compete to win prizes and musical instruments for their band, funding for their school music programs and the chance to perform live at the SchoolJam USA Finals in Anaheim, Calif.

The 2010 winner, a band called After Math, won $5,000 for its schools’ music programs, a trophy in the shape of a platinum album and a grand-prize trip to Europe to perform at the international 2010 SchoolJam finals in Frankfurt, Germany. Kids can take this opportunity to form their own bands and get involved in the contest. Teen bands can sign up for the 2011 SchoolJam USA competition after August 2nd, 2010, at www.schooljamusa.com.

Town Continues Passion Play Tradition

<b>Town Continues Passion Play Tradition</b>“></td>
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<p>(<a href=NewsUSA) – We all engage in little traditions, but we usually do so on a family-basis — rarely does the whole town get involved. And yet, that’s exactly what happens in the village of Oberammergau in Bavaria, Germany, where townspeople come together every 10 years to put on a huge Passion Play, involving over a thousand actors.

How did the tradition start? In 1633, the plague was taking a harsh toll on Oberammergau’s inhabitants. To save their town, the villagers promised God that they would perform a Passion Play — the story of the last days, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ -; every tenth year. From that day on, the plague deaths stopped. And so the villagers have kept their promise for the last 375 years.

It truly takes a village to put on the show. Participants must either be native to Oberammergau or have lived there for 20 years or more. Of the village’s 5,300 inhabitants, about 2,500 will be involved in the production, whether they be actors, ushers, stage hands, seamstresses or musicians. No wigmakers are allowed — on the Ash Wednesday the year before the play, women start growing out their hair, and men begin growing out their hair and beards for an authentic look.

The performers, both on stage and in the orchestra, are not professionals, but they undergo rigorous training and rehearsals. For example, the 55-piece orchestra will begin weekly rehearsals almost a year before they’re required to perform. By opening night, the actors and musicians can put on a professional-quality performance.

The play is performed against the backdrop of the Ammergau Alps in a custom-designed theater. The actors — there are up to a thousand on stage in the mass scenes — are exposed to the elements, but the symphony-sized orchestra and audience stay dry in case of inclement weather. The theater can accommodate 4,700 audience members.

The next Passion Play will take place in 2010, with performances lasting from May 15th to October 3rd. The production will see a revised text, new stage designs and music, and new costumes. In 2000 more than 150,000 Americans travelled to Oberammergau. For more information, visit www.oberammergau-passion.com.