Thumbs Up — Play The Jazz, Wear The Blues

from The Times Record

Strike up the band for Matt Fogg, the former Morse High School choral director, for becoming the first recipient of the Yamaha company’s Artists in Education endorsement. The Jazz Times reported last week that Fogg, 28 and now a teacher at the Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland, will help launch the program devoted to teaching and creating music.

Based on his achievements at Morse after assuming the baton for the choral program there in 2001, Fogg brings a perfect mix of skills to the new initiative.

The creativity it takes to perform as a jazz pianist, which Fogg does when he’s not teaching, fortifies the leadership, diversity and dedication that remain prerequisites for teaching music in schools. “I want to change people’s mind about what it means to be a high school musician,” Fogg told The Times Record in a 2003 interview. It’s about stretching the ears of the students, which will stretch the ears of the audiences.”

The skills required to play an instrument or sing complex chorale arrangements translate well to other academic disciplines. Yet band and chorus don’t merit much respect from a state educational hierarchy that seems intent on defining Essential Programs and Services in the narrowest possible way.

Perhaps Fogg’s national recognition will tune up that dissonant note.

Creating Student Musicians – One Note At A Time

from The Times Record; January 29, 2003 by Christopher Cousins

Morse High School’s two 20-something music teachers may have been untested rookies when they arrived, but the respect they’ve gained from the students, teachers and parents in their 18 months here is universal.

Both came to Morse in September 2001.

Anthony Marro, 25, the band director, runs efficient, methodical rehearsals that have his student-musicians sometimes playing just a few notes over and over again until they’re perfect. By singing the notes – “da ba la la, da” for example – stomping his foot, snapping and clapping, Marro projects exactly the sound he wants. When the students succeed, he praises them. When they don’t, he tells them so.

“He knows what he wants from us,” said Celeste Bessey, a sophmore trombone player from Bath. “He’s still learning things, but we like him. Hopefully, he’ll have many years here.”

Matthew Fogg, 24, the chorus director, is more prone to alternately sitting at the music room’s grand piano – his forte, so to speak – and jumping up in front of a group of singers to help with pronunciation and phrasing. On a Bach piece during a recent rehearsal, Fogg spent several minutes teaching the students how to say the words correctly in German, breaking a one-syllable word into three sounds. Before the students begin, Fogg sings their notes for them – even though some of the parts, particularly the sopranos, are far out of his vocal range. To say Fogg is full of gusto is a half-truth, said his students.

“He’s got incredible energy,” said sophmore Shelby Kaplan of Woolwich. “I haven’t had a chorus director like him before. He makes me look forward to chorus.”

The student said both teachers are worthy replacements for their predecessors, David Aines in band and Wendy Ulmer in chorus. Aines, the 2001 recipient of the Dr. Patricia Ames Distinguished Teacher Award, moved away with his family, and Ulmer switched to teaching English at Morse.

Fogg and Marro have common goals for the music program, which start and end with giving the students the best music education possible. Along the way, they hope to expand the students’ musical tastes across the genres, classical to contemporary.

Both lead musically active lives outside the classroom. Fogg moonlights as a jazz pianist, playing with a variety of ensembles, including full bands and sometimes solo vocalists. Marro, a woodwind player is a saxophonist for the Terry White Big Band among other groups, and also writes his own songs.

Marro, of Portland, attended South Portland High School before earning a music education degree from the University of Southern Maine. Fogg, who lives in Bath, attended Biddeford High School and earned his music education degree from the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Both were hired in Bath at a starting teacher’s salary, about $25,000 a year. Both are still single, and they admit they’re still adjusting to their new careers.

“You’ve got to earn their respect,” Marro said of the students. “It can’t be given. It has to be earned. They’ve learned that although they liked the way Mr. Aines did things, my ways work too.”

Since they joined the school, the two new music teachers have started a music theory class and have plans to add a keyboard laboratory, but perhaps their biggest accomplishment was the formation of a new music booster group to help pay for what the department budget can’t afford.

This is especially valuable now, said Morse Principal Paul Pendleton, because of the budget situation in the city, which last year forced all departments to cut spending proposals by hundreds of thousands of dollars. This year, all department heads were instructed to submit proposals with no increases, but Pendelton said that didn’t dampen the spirits of Fogg or Marro to expand and enhance their programs.

“They both have a tremendous knowledge of music and they both work well with young people,” said Pendleton. “They’ve got energy and a plan for where they want the program to go; they’re not just going through the motions. They’re both real favorites of the other faculty. They’re very well liked and respected.”

The students agree.

“He makes it exciting to be in chorus,” said freshman Calista Young of Fogg. “He’s great at teaching us how to do challenging stuff.”

“Mr. Fogg won’t let you just get by and sing mediocre,” said Kaplan. “It shows maturity that we’re performing things you don’t hear a lot of other high school students singing.”

Trombone player Petra Hamilton-Denison, a junior, says she has never had a band teacher like Marro. Much to her regret, Hamilton-Denison and her family moved last week to a town outside the reach of the Bath school department.

“Mr. Marro is very serious about music,” she said. “He knows so much about music that he takes it apart in sections. It’s not so easy but he makes it so you can learn the pieces and it’s fun. It’s the best class I have and I’ll miss it.”

Sally Davis of West Bath, who has two daughters in Bath schools and who is a member of the music boosters club, said she was worried not so long ago about the prospect of Aines and Ulmer leaving and the effect it would have on the music department.

“I was sitting at the spring concert before they came and thinking how I pitied the people coming in because they had such big shoes to fill,” said Davis. “They’ve more than met my expectations. They’ve delivered a lot of energy and enthusiasm into the program.”

“I want to change people’s mind about what it means to be a high school musician,” said Fogg. “It’s about stretching the ears of the students, which will stretch the ears of the audience.”