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Charter school expands music with new studio and artist-in-residence

Artist-in-residence Dr. Yukiko Fujimurplays classical piece new Cambridge Lakes Charter School music studio located Starks Crossing Pingree Grove.  October

Artist-in-residence Dr. Yukiko Fujimura plays a classical piece in the new Cambridge Lakes Charter School music studio located at Starks Crossing in Pingree Grove. October 19, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 27, 2012 10:38AM

PINGREE GROVE — It’s cheesy to say music is a universal language, Yukiko Fujimura admitted.

But “just being able to share it” is what Fujimura, a classically-trained concert pianist, loves most about music.

“To just take this incredible piece of music and not just perform it, but also make it your own interpretation and share it with people and get a reaction from the audience — that’s the most rewarding,” she said.

These days, Fujimura is sharing her music with the Fox Valley community as the first-ever artist-in-residence at Cambridge Lakes Charter School, 900 Wester Blvd.

In the new position, she will teach the most advanced piano students at Cambridge Studio and reach out to area high schools and colleges, she said. She also plans to perform a recital in January at the school, she said.

On Friday, though, she performed the accompaniment to “Down By The Riverside” as nearly 40 students in the school’s eighth-grade chorale picked apart the harmonies in the line, “I ain’t gonna study war no more.”

Those students may not be studying war, but they are studying music at Cambridge Lakes Charter School — and at a time when many other schools and districts are cutting their fine arts programming.

Larry Fuhrer, president and CEO of charter-holder Northern Kane Educational Corp., wouldn’t say he’s “passionate” about music. In fact, he said, he thinks that’s a “loathsome” word.

“I’m really not passionate about those things. Those are just fundamental things that everyone should use if you want students to learn more,” Fuhrer said.

Those things include the chorales and artist-in-residence and brand-new music studio that Cambridge Lakes Charter School added this year — things not only available to its students but also its community.

They also are things that the surrounding school district, Carpentersville-based Community Unit School District 300, and nearby Elgin School District U46 have cut in the past few years as Illinois has decreased and delayed funding for those districts.

Area district cuts

District 300 eliminated kindergarten music, physical education and media in spring 2010. Meantime, U46 eliminated kindergarten music, art and physical education programming, as well as about 50 fine arts teachers at all grade levels in spring 2010, according to Theresa DeDecker, U46 coordinator of fine arts, elementary physical education and health.

That saved District 300 about $358,000 and U46 about $3 million. But those cuts and layoffs have limited course offerings and shortened class periods spent learning music in both districts.

Ben Churchill, District 300 assistant superintendent for high school teaching and learning, announced at the board of education meeting Monday night that district high schools will add a Beginning Instrument Methods course next school year, during which students can learn to play a new musical instrument.

And in U46, DeDecker said, “We’re at a point where we’re looking at actually adding programming back in.”

But at Cambridge Lakes Charter School, Fuhrer said, “These are really not add-ons as far as I’m concerned. These are ways learning is implemented in the lives of our students.”

Concepts, chorales

The president and CEO isn’t “steeped in the education world — that’s not where I come from,” he said. Instead, he said, he looks at research and concepts, and asks why schools aren’t doing those things.

Music, for one, helps students understand a variety of different concepts, he said. There’s a direct correlation between music and math — between whole notes and quarter notes and fractions. It’s an artifact from other times and cultures, someplace you can visit without leaving the school, he said.

It also helps students to remember other concepts, he said, pointing out that third-graders at the charter school still could remember 80 percent of what they had learned about the solar system two months later, when that information probably should have disappeared within days. Those students had spun around their classroom, some four times for every one spin their classmates made, mimicking the revolutions of the planets and, again, those whole notes and quarter notes.

“By the time you have the kids spinning around, they have experienced what the universe is,” Fuhrer said.

That’s why students at the school take both a grade-level chorale and general music course, he said.

Students also can audition for the Coyote Chorale, an extracurricular chorale of about 80 students in grades one to eight; or Cambridge Voices, which features about 25 upper-level students, according to Gregor King, music team lead at Cambridge Lakes Charter School.

Teachers even can join Collage, a staff ensemble that performs at both school and community events.

And this year, the charter school has created two chorales for the community to join — the Cambridge Youth Chorale for children in grades one to eight, and the Cambridge Adult Chorale for anyone ages 16 and up. Auditions and rehearsals for both community chorales started this summer, according to the school website.

“The design for the learning center has never been to be internally focused,” Fuhrer said. “It’s always been to reach out to other people.”

New offerings

On Friday, light spilled through the rain-speckled windows into two of the four practice rooms at Cambridge Studio, each with its own piano.

Extracurricular music lessons at the studio started last school year and moved this year into the office building at Starks Crossing in Pingree Grove, according to studio manager Michael Hynek. Both students and community members, from first-graders on up, can take private or group lessons after school there, he said.

About 10 people take lessons now at the studio, Hynek said — mostly piano lessons, but also percussion and voice. The seven teachers at the studio also offer clarinet, saxophone and flute lessons, he said.

One of those seven teachers this year is Fujimura, who first came to the United States from Japan to earn her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire.

She recently earned her doctorate in music with a specialization in piano performance from Ball Sate University in Indiana, she said. That’s because she wanted to teach at a university and work with advanced-level students, as well as continue to perform and expand her repertoire, she said.

So when her resumé landed afterward at Cambridge Lakes Charter School for a position teaching music to elementary students, she demurred. Fujimura wasn’t qualified either, she said.

But she got a call the next day from Fuhrer with the idea for the artist-in-residence position at the school, she said.

That’s a position the president and CEO said he hopes will draw attention to all the fine arts offering for students and the community at the school.

And it’s one that excites Fujimura. Music takes a lot of discipline — something she hopes to pass on to her students, she said. But mostly what she hopes they will take away from their instruction at the charter school and studio is “just the joy of being able to appreciate the art and being able to express themselves using that media.”

That’s a lesson sixth-grader Corina Ruiz, 11, of Pingree Grove already has learned from her music classes and vocal lessons at Cambridge Lakes.

Corina loves the music of Justin Bieber, Hannah Montana and Taylor Swift, she said. In fact, she said, “I like everything about music.”

“I just feel like it’s different from learning subjects. I feel like it’s having fun, but learning at the same time.”

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