Students and staff at Copperopolis Elementary School are celebrating the return of a formal music program to the school’s curriculum.

Though third grade classes have enjoyed “sporadic participation” with recorders, and all grades perform in the annual Spring Sing, for the past decade there has not been a music program for all. 

Until now.

As of late March, local musician Ras Beeken Dan, owner and instructor at Murphys School of Music (MSM), has taken over music education for the 250 students who make up the school.

“I believe in every community having performing arts as both an educational tool and a healthy outlet,” Beeken wrote on the MSM home page.

To that end, students in grades transitional-kindergarten through six will have weekly visits with Mr. B, as he is known to the children, learning the basic foundations of music and exploring music appreciation.

Surrounded by various percussion instruments during the second session of instruction, Mr. B introduces youngsters to common music terminology, including rhythm, beat, vibration and pitch, and asks youngsters for their definitions of music.

“Music helps your brain think,” said first-grader Gregory Kelly, summarizing the mission of music education at Copper school.

“A key part to having a successful school is to find a home for every child. By this I mean that we need to have a niche for all kids. Combining music, art, athletics, clubs and social-emotional learning with traditional core subjects into our schools fills the needs of our students,” said Copperopolis Elementary Principal Josh O’Geen. “Music has been found to help students in areas such as creativity, math, stress relief, self-esteem and an overall increase in intelligence.”

With the objective of educating the whole child, O’Geen and the school staff spent the first half of the school year looking for music options to meet their goals. Through talking with family and friends, O’Geen was introduced to Beeken, the 39-year-old saxophonist who opened MSM in 2017.

“Beeken was in the process of starting to work with Michelson Elementary and was gracious enough to offer us two free music assemblies. Once we had the chance to see him in action, we were sold,” O’Geen said. “Beeken provides a high quality music program, and is a fantastic teacher who works extremely well with children.”

Evidence of Beeken’s skill was on display during a recent Tuesday morning, when he smoothly transitioned from 30 minutes of teaching a group of fifth- and sixth-grade students to easily engaging kindergarteners and a first-grade class. And though the language of his instruction is adjusted to fit the level of the students, his contagious enthusiasm does not wane.

“I truly feel that music is a wonderful way for every individual to relate. What an amazing way to take a break from all of the challenging demands school can bring. This will also bring an amazing opportunity for our more musically minded children to have an opportunity to shine,” first grade teacher Jessica Handgis said of Beeken’s presentation. “I am beyond thrilled to have such an important part of learning and life in our school.”

Handgis’ appreciation is shared by her colleagues.

“The staff and students at Copperopolis Elementary School are incredibly thankful to our parents and community who have supported this program,” O’Geen said. “Without their help it would have been very difficult to have this worthy program. Thank you to our Parent-Teacher Club and the Copperopolis community.”

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