In the past four years, Kay Hilton, Education & Engagement Director of the Britt Music & Arts Festival, has developed FREE year-round music education programs serving Jackson and Josephine counties. Hilton, an accomplished musician and educator, brings with her expertise, much of it gleaned during 18 years as a performer and music coordinator at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Britt Education and Engagement programs include residencies which bring musicians into schools during the school year; an annual guitar weekend: a three-day exploration of guitar styles; fellowship programs in which students perform with members of the Britt Orchestra, then form chamber ensembles to provide outreach performances in the community; BrittKids Koncerts (mid-morning performances for children in the Britt Performance Garden); and internships and partnerships with educational and like-minded organizations.
I met Hilton one morning at Limestone Coffee Company in Medford.
EH: How does music education affect children?
KH: There is a lot of research about the positive things that music education does for brain development. It helps in a variety of ways. It helps you learn how to read music, which affects different parts of your brain. There’s a new study recently that talks about how the study of music helps you learn languages better, because you’re hearing different tonal qualities and getting used to memorizing what those are. And that can help you recognize different languages and learn languages more quickly. There’s been a lot of research on how it helps with math ability.
It also helps with interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. If you’re studying music (especially at a younger age) you’re likely to be in a choir or a band where you have to work together and follow instructions. It teaches you how to work together, how to keep a goal in mind, and how to figure out step by step how to achieve that goal. You have to work as a team to achieve that musical goal.
EH: Have you noticed any changes in our nation’s funding for the arts?
KH: I think we’re already noticing a downturn in individual donations, because they’re not tax-deductible anymore. The tax code has changed. We’re not itemizing anymore. If we can’t itemize, we’re not going be able to write-off donations.
To bring professional musicians into classrooms for free — to schools that can’t afford to have a music teacher or to pay to bring in their own musicians — if we can’t do that because we don’t have enough donations, then it’s all going to unravel.
There are still people out there that donate and underwrite, because they know it’s the right thing to do, and they support the work that we do. But for the average person, who wants to give 20 dollars to support music education, if they can’t write it off on their taxes, maybe they can’t afford to do it. It’s very concerning.
We still write and receive grants. There are still many institutions out there whose primary goal is to give money to organizations — that they feel are doing good work. I hope that will always be the case.
Everything that my department does is free except for the Guitar Weekend. I wish I could get a sponsor for that, because in my perfect world everything from the education department at Britt would be free. That’s my goal.
EH: Why is music important to all of us?
KH: I’d encourage people to keep music and art in their life because it makes you a well-rounded person. It brings joy into your life. Everyone needs a creative outlet. It helps keep you young and engaged in the world.
For more information about Britt Education & Engagement programs, contact Kay Hilton at 541-690-3852 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director based in Ashland. To read more interviews with remarkable people, visit her blog at ashlandtheater.wordpress.com. Reach her at email@example.com.