Best of West: Music


West Anchorage Band Flag portrayed over the exit out of the Band/Orchestra room.

Houlton Dannenberg

Like most high school activities, the music programs provide their members with a like-minded community. West Anchorage High School is no different. West provides three astounding musical groups for its 1800+ students- the band, choir, and orchestra. Gabrielle Wibbenmeyer, the choir teacher at West, emphasizes about the community that choir, along with other musical programs, can supply. “It provides, what I hope, is a safe place for them to be themselves, to make mistakes, and learn from their mistakes, especially in the face of adversity. … It creates an amazing community because we all are working together towards a common goal,” Wibbenmeyer says.

However, the sense of community isn’t the only benefit of a musical program. According to studies done by multiple sources (including Inquires Journal and Music For All), playing music improves cognitive ability in children and teens. At West Anchorage High School, the music educators agree. Rebecca Haag, the band director, and Gabrielle Wibbenmeyer both gave overwhelming support for these studies. Wibbenmeyer says that music incorporates nearly all of the core classes that West offers. “Here at West, which isn’t the case all around the world, we do lots of [core classes in music]. We talk about musical behavior, you know literacy… its rhythms, which is math… We talk about history, the history of the music and the composers, so much.” Haag adds on a scientific explanation. “It is a tactile activity and it incorporates both sides of your brain, and nothing else makes you use both sides of your brain. You’re reading music, you’re interpreting what the composer has said to do… and you’re still adding in an emotional component,” Haag says.

In addition to using both sides of their brains, students are exposed to new world views and perspectives via traveling throughout the continental United States and abroad. In the summer of 2017, the band students at West will tour across Europe. “I’m taking a good chunk of the band to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland,” Haag says. “It provides a global experience. They’ll be able to see where all the prolific composers lived and worked, and gain a new world perspective.” Wibbenmeyer says that traveling can also provide connections and college opportunity for juniors and seniors.

Burke Croft, a 10th grader at West Anchorage High School, has been involved in musical programs for five years, starting with basics at Chugach Elementary School and progressing through middle and high school. Croft, a viola player, says that music programs provide a way to calm down. “During the school day it provides a chance to calm down and relax a little,” says Croft. During a busy school day, this relaxation is necessary. Even after school, Croft is involved in music. “Whenever I’m doing homework, I just love listening to music and, just in general, it’s something I can have that’s always a big part of my life,” Croft says.

Haag looks to her band as she discusses proper playing technique.

Both students and teachers confirm that music improves cognitive ability- and West’s unique musical programs are no exception.