Like life, innovation seems to grow in unusual places and conditions. Take, for example, La Salle Catholic High School in Tampa, Florida. La Salle was recently hit severely by Hurricane Rita, and then as they were rebuilding, a second time by Wilma. And here’s what makes La Salle so special.
La Salle music teacher, Radio Cremata, got a panicked call in the middle of the night to come to the school. “When I got there, the nuns were running around moving my $50,000 worth of electronic musical instruments to a dryer location because the roof was coming off my room.” He explains. “I can’t tell you how that makes me feel to know that in the heat of the situation, they thought to save my gear.”
In six years, with no money and little initial support, Cremata has built a technology program that even gets support from the nuns. How does this happen?
“Headphones.” Cremata jokes. But in effect, he’s correct. Six years ago, when La Salle administrators hired him, they thought Cremata would do what most instructors would have done: start a choir and teach the students to sing hymns. “I wasn’t really up for doing that,” he says. “I started an after-school rock band.” Then he thought “It’s too loud. I need electronic drums.” He raised the money by having the students sell cheesecake…$10,000 worth of cheesecake. And he bought electronic musical instruments.
“It’s not ‘Footloose’ here at La Salle. They’re hipper than that.” he explains. In the beginning, Cremata and his students were sharing resources with other teachers and carrying keyboards from room to room. Sharing resources also helped build support among other teachers who could see the ‘product’. Now it is not unusual to see Cremata’s students working on cross-disciplinary projects all over the school.
The program has grown steadily to include classes in sound engineering, TV production and recording. The Sound Engineering class was full as soon as it was announced. All of it, says Cremata, was student driven. It’s something that public school teachers may not experience, but student interest drove the changes in music curriculum at La Salle.
The piano class became Midi Technology. “Technology makes piano come to life.” explains Cremata. His students learn sequencing, changing voices, quantizing, orchestration and remixing. “Learning piano can be tedious.” he says “It doesn’t have to be that way. Technology can be the vehicle to get kids to enjoy learning to read music.”
Cremata says he tried to teach concert band but the support wasn’t there. Instead, he now has 4 or 5 rotating rock bands. He happily includes kids who weren’t especially great musicians. It makes him happy to know that kids who might never have considered playing music, have chosen it for their elective.
Still, he is conscious that he is not teaching technology, he’s using technology to teach music. “You can’t let the technology just take over,” Cremata asserts. “It’s not the technology that changes these kids. It’s the process. It’s what they come away with. Tech is the vehicle…but it’s not the thing. Does this make sense?”
It makes perfect sense to us. Roland would like to congratulate Radio Cremata for being selected Deaver county’s Teacher of the Year, 2006.