Interview with Stephen Battaglia

Today I am pleased to welcome Stephen Battaglia, author of the Mr. McSymphony book series, to Music Matters Blog for an exclusive interview.

Music Matters Blog (MMB): What is your musical/education background?
Stephen Battaglia (SB): Piano lessons for six years and violin lessons for two years. I now play the harmonica, mostly in schools.

MMB: How did you get started doing school music presentations?
SB: A long story but to make it as short as possible here it goes: Every year my wife, Beverly, and I give each of our four grandchildren a weekend with their grandparents. Well, in the fall of 2001 it was six year old and first grader Kate’s turn. On Sunday Beverly asked if I could take Kate home to La Canada, California about two hours drive from our home in Palm Desert, California. On the way, I turned on my favorite station 88.5 FM, the classical music station, and asked Kate if that was OK for a little while. It was fortunate that Mozart, Beethoven and Rossini were playing during the trip. Along the way we discussed the sounds of instruments, the pitch of various instruments, composers, conductors and the different types of classical music. Two hours later she was home and she enjoyed every two hours of it. Well, two weeks later in class, the teacher asked if any of their parents could come in and teach the class about classical music. You know what happened next. Kate raised her hand and said “My grandfather knows everything about music and would be happy to come to class.” That night I got a phone call and Kate told me what happened in class and I said that I would be pleased to present a music program to her class. One month later Mr. McSymphony’s “It’s All About a Symphony Orchestra” was born.

The next week I was playing golf with an individual whose daughter was the principal at a local elementary school. After he heard the story he suggested that I contact her. I did and she was excited to have me present the program to each of her six first grade classes. She then suggested that I contact other schools in her school district and six other schools were signed up for the program in the spring of 2002. After that 2002 spring school year I decided to expand the program to the second through the fifth grades to make it more interesting for me and keep me busy in my retirement years. Now I have presented Mr. McSymphony’s programs in 16 schools and to over 25,000 children. I have also presented the Opera program to adults.

MMB: What does one of your typical school presentations look like?

SB: Mr. McSymphony’s It’s All About Classical Music
Props: 3’ x 4’ board with a list of composers, country born in and music period; 3’ x 4’ world map, CD player with CD.
Program: Discuss the type of music to be presented- Baroque, Classical period and Modern Classical music. The students are then told that there will be a music identification test at the end of the program to see if they can pick out the composer’s music which they previously heard. The world map is used to identify the country and capitals of the country where each composer was born. When naming the capitals I encourage them to use associations to remember them. For France I tell them to picture a fruit and I draw a picture of a pear on the board representing Paris. They take a trip from Italy to Russia and learn most of the capitols besides music and have fun doing it. The program starts with a story of the composer to be presented and the music of that composer is played. Each program lasts about 40 minutes. As an added note, at the end of the fifth grade program I tell the story of Dr. Ben Carson once called “Dummy” in the fifth grade and now a premier neurosurgeon.

MMB: What kind of feedback have you received from teachers and students regarding the programs?
SB: a. Teachers have asked me to write Instructor Guides for Mr. McSymphony’s programs so other individuals could present these programs in the future or in other schools.
b. Students had fun learning and look forward to my next presentation.
c. The Palm Springs District “Performing and Visual Arts Director” sat in on one of my programs and immediately purchased Mr. McSymphony’s books for her schools and suggested I present the programs in her schools.
d. Many teachers have said “We look forward to your return next year.”
e. “The program and books not only help the children learn music and composer lives, but geography and other school interests. Some schools have music programs but nothing to follow up their music learning. Your books do the job.”
f. David Karlquist, principal of James Madison Elementary School in Palm Desert- Students look forward with eager anticipation to Mr. McSymphony’s programs. A great way to help the students learn about music. Why not write books to go along with the program?
g. Mr. Jeff Hisgen, principal of James E. Carter Elementary School, Palm Desert- Students absolutely loved your presentations and would love for you to return next year. You books will be great educational tools.
h. Jean Hammond, piano teacher,- All five of Mr. McSymphony’s books are excellent reading lessons and should be especially good in school classrooms and libraries. I keep the books in my waiting room for the students to read before their lessons.
i. These books will turn children on to music and help them read at the same time.
j. Barbara Panaway, 3rd grade teacher at James E. Carter School: Great program and outstanding books. After the program I require my students to write a composition on which composer they liked best and why.

MMB: Do you have any suggestions for how an independent or classroom teacher could effectively use your materials with their students?
SB: a. Use the Instructor Guides to present the program in individual classrooms. The programs work best with separate classes or small group of students about 30 maximum. It is easier to interact with individual students with this size group.
b. Have students read the Mr. McSymphony’s book on that program and write a report on a musical topic of the program. This helps the children learn about music, reading, and composition.
c. After a school’s music class using instruments, have them read one of the Mr. McSymphony’s books to discuss.

MMB: Do you have plans to develop any further books or resources?
SB: a. Future books of Mr. McSymphony are in the planning stages to cover other types of music including country and cultural music from around the world.
b. Plan to present a program at teacher’s conventions to show them the ease and effectiveness of the material.

MMB: Thank you so much for joining us today, Mr. Battaglia! And thank you for the tremendous work you are doing to help foster a love of music in children!

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