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Music educator discusses faith and fine arts during ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’

Michele Slone, a music educator in Urbana, Ohio, is a quarterfinalist for the 2023 Music Educator Award

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Michele Slone

LOUISVILLE — As co-host Simon Doong pointed out near the end of last week’s installment of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast,” it’s not every week a music educator who happens to be a Presbyterian and is nominated for a national music educator award stops by for a chat.

But that indeed was the case when Doong hosted Michele Slone, a music educator at Urbana Elementary School in Urbana, Ohio. Slone, who enters the conversation at the 30:55 mark, is a quarterfinalist for the 2023 Music Educator Award from the Recording Academy and Grammy Museum.

Doong is a mission associate with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. His co-host, the Rev. Lee Catoe, is editor of Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice.

Slone was asked to respond to this listener question: Why is music important in both the educational and faith development of children and young people?

“My first answer is, music is collaborative,” Slone said. “It has to be done in collaboration or it doesn’t work.”

In Slone’s classroom, “collaboration is peacemaking, getting along with one another, solving a problem and making something work together,” Slone said. “The arts offer that while a lot of other subjects do not.”

When children share in church or in a camp or conference setting, they’re of course sharing their faith.

“I tell my kids at school all the time that music is part of our culture and celebrations. It’s a connection we make with the real world,” Slone told Doong. “Our job in the elementary classroom is to say, ‘How do I teach them to become both participants in that outside world and also appreciators of the outside world? We’re sharing cultures, celebrations and stories.”

“If, heaven forbid, a school system loses its music education,” Slone said, “isn’t it our call as a community of faith to provide that for them?”

That got Doong to recalling his own children’s choir experience. “One reason I enjoyed it was not because I was a good singer, because I was not,” he said. “It was a chance for me to participate with others. A lot of us tend to be shy when we are young. We didn’t enjoy standing in front of the congregation, but we did enjoy that time of rehearsing and being together. Once we got out in front of the congregation, it was like, ‘OK, we can do this.’ There’s something about looking into the eyes of people you’re performing with that helps give you a little bit of that confidence to get the job done.”

“You don’t have to be perfect or even sing well,” Slone said, adding there are few other activities “where the age range is so big. Children’s choirs can range from preschool to sixth grade” or beyond. “They’re not going to get that anywhere else.”

“You’re not going to put a 10-year-old with a four-year-old in sports,” Doong said.

Church children’s choirs are places where “you’re building that community and you’re allowing the older ones to nurture the younger ones,” Slone said. “You wouldn’t have a child learning from a textbook written in 1913 or 1914, but the child can sing a song written then. Nothing else supports the culture and passes on the tradition and teaches history like that does.”

Slone said her own father was a Presbyterian pastor who died when her son was four weeks old. As family and friends were mourning his death, one person said, “The songs you learned from your dad — the songs he instilled in you will still be instilled in him.”

“So much of that happens through song and music. It doesn’t matter if it’s a somber hymn or an old song around the campfire, it gets passed on,” Slone said, noting that music that’s meaningful to older generations is often passed along to younger ones by people in camp and conference ministry and others.

Doong told Slone his father played the clarinet growing up, then put it down and never played it again.

“I picked it up in elementary school,” Doong said. “We had his clarinet refurbished and restored, and so I started playing it. I played it through college, and then put it down for a while.”

Just before the pandemic, Doong returned to the instrument. His pastor heard him practicing and asked Doong to join the other musicians helping out with livestream worship services.

“I was timid at first, but in a short amount of time I was playing every Sunday,” Doong said. His father started tuning in to the church’s worship services to “hear me playing the clarinet, across time and distance, through the barriers of the pandemic and everything else. It was like my dad and I were connected through the beauty of music and the gift of this clarinet. It’s a generational inheritance of experience and blessings. It’s really something.”

“A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” with the Rev. Lee Catoe and Simon Doong drops each Thursday.

“Music is one of those things that can be shared across borders and miles,” Slone told Doong, adding it was wonderful “for your dad to get to see that and hear that.”

By the end of their time together, Slone could cross one item off her bucket list.

“Now I can say I did a podcast!” Slone told Doong.

“We will stay tuned,” Doong told her, “to see how the Grammy finals progress.”

New editions of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” drop every Thursday. Go here to listen to past and current installments.

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