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Guest Column: Kara Ravina Helps Music Bloom at Albany Middle School

Here's the second in a series of guest columns about the musicians and teachers who offer music education in Albany schools. Don't miss tonight's "Swing into Spring" fundraiser. Details below.

There has been a certain amount of symmetry to ’s life.

She was educated in the East Bay and now teaches in Albany. Her music teacher at Walnut Creek Intermediate became her colleague when Ravina started teaching at the school herself. Her husband, Jason, also is a middle school music instructor and, like Ravina, plays the trumpet.

Her life thus far would seem to be a series of connections, but Ravina builds on these connections and makes her own way. And, as time passes, she continues to improve an established music program for  students.

IN THE BEGINNING

Ravina attended school just over the hills, in Walnut Creek, where her mother began a fundraising group very similar to the . She attended and . She studied music education and graduated from Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay).

When she began her teaching career at Walnut Creek Intermediate—the same school she attended—she worked in tandem with her own middle school music teacher, Don Scott. When he retired, she took over for him as lead music instructor for the fourth through eighth grade bands.

After four years in Walnut Creek, she and her husband moved to Cincinnati for two years while he attended the Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati where Jason earned his master's in music. As much as they enjoyed the Midwest, when Jason finished his studies there, they felt the tug of the West Coast and returned to the East Bay.

BACK IN THE EAST BAY

Upon their return to California, Ravina sought a teaching position in the Bay Area. She hoped for a small town, similar to where she grew up, but with a slightly more urban feel. She said liked the "vibe" of Albany and interviewed at Albany Middle School, where long-time teacher Bob Slous was retiring. After she was hired, she discovered Slous had known her former teacher and colleague, Don Scott.

Ravina continues to seek ways to improve the instrumental music program at the middle school. Prior to her tenure, there were two bands; all students had to "fit" into either the Concert or Symphonic band.

During her first year, she reduced the size of the Concert and Symphonic bands, and created the Cobra Band, an exclusive band for sixth graders to "give them a place to work at their level. I wanted them to have a place to feel challenged, meet other sixth graders (coming from the three different elementary schools), be goofy, and work at an appropriate level for their age without the pressure from older students."

In her second year, she introduced a class for orchestral musicians, and those students currently benefit from instruction at the middle and high schools.

Ravina works with Albany High School music instructors, , to create an integrated program to provide all students with access to music education. This is exemplified by the growth in music learning opportunities at the middle school.

Currently she teaches the Concert, Symphonic, and Cobra bands, the Orchestra, and the Jazz Workshop and Jazz Band.

When asked about her goals for the music program, she said, "I just want to see the program continue to grow. I'd like to see Concert and Symphonic bands become part of the day."

(Currently both these classes are taught during the so-called "zero" period, which is scheduled before the start of the standard school day and lasts only 35 minutes.)

In addition to adding more choices for types of musical instrument and style, she has introduced middle school students to the rigors (and rewards) of competition in California Association for Music Education festivals. The groups have consistently received Superior and Unanimous Superior ratings for the past four years, including a this past January. 

Also this year, most of the bands will go to the Great America Music Festival for competition and some fun. 

You can witness the talent of the Albany Middle School musicians, performing along with select groups from the high school, at the Albany Music Fund’s "" big band dance Friday, March 25, at the Veterans' Memorial Hall. .

Everybody makes mistakes ... ! If there's something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, give editor Emilie Raguso a call at 510-459-8325 or shoot her an e-mail at emilier@patch.com.

Stewart Gooderman March 27, 2011 at 10:55 PM
I attended the "Swing Into Spring" on Friday. Those kids can REALLY play!!! They were absolutely magnificent! All of them. I remember going to High School in Brooklyn in the 1960s and never hearing band concerts like this. Just wonderful!
Karen Larson March 28, 2011 at 01:46 PM
We are SO lucky to have Kara Ravina at Albany Middle School. The students are constantly challenged by a wide range of music, she introduces them to new composers and groups, she develops their love and understanding of music. And she gets the to work together so they sound fantastic when they perform. It was such a thrill to hear all of the musicians at the Swing into Spring dance on Friday night. And the middle school kids sounded just great. Thank you, Kara.
Craig Bryant March 28, 2011 at 07:45 PM
Great article. Kara is an absolute professional and I feel so fortunate to work with her.
Kathe Jordan March 29, 2011 at 12:17 AM
In addition to teaching the students how to play well together, Kara insists that her jazz students learn to listen to each others' favorite selections. In this way students hear many new and startling styles of music. She also teaches her students how to improvise. I learned a lot from watching Kara in the two years we shared our music office!
Stacey Simon March 30, 2011 at 11:40 PM
She is a wonderful teacher and achieves it was a natural grace I can only envy. Albany is lucky to have her!

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