Math, Music, And Refrigerators

_DSC0746Today’s post is written by our CIS friend and partner, Kalamazoo College Professor  Dr. Eric “Rick” Barth.

newspaper-clipping-of-Ricky-BarthLet’s begin with an old clipping from my home-town newspaper, dating back to the 1960s (right).

The picture shows a small-town businessman (my father) watching as a toddler (me) pushes on the side of a refrigerator, equipped with a long-forgotten bit of technology that was meant to make an easy job of moving, and cleaning behind, heavy kitchen appliances. I’m pretty sure that gadget never caught on with the buying public, but my dad always had his eyes open for the “next big thing” and hey, you never know…

This story could go lots of ways from here: how about “That was the day I learned the importance of cleaning under my fridge”? Instead, when I see that yellow newspaper, I think “That was one of the many days in my life that I got the chance to try something big and, because of all the supportive people around me, didn’t have to worry that something good wouldn’t come of it.”

That toddler spent the next 30 years working in Dad’s appliance store and studying in rural Kansas public schools, getting his degree at music school from the University of Kansas, getting married, working in more appliance stores, getting his Ph.D. in mathematics, moving to New York City and finally to Kalamazoo with two little boys of his own, to teach at Kalamazoo College. That history is a series of big opportunities, big changes, big challenges, big trials, and big joys. All big things that I was able to attempt without (much) fear because of all the supportive people around me.

Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park
Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park

What’s the next big thing? For me it’s combining my work at the College with my role as Curriculum Director at Kids in Tune. KiT is a family business for sure. The founder and director is Liz Youker, a fellow KU music alum with an unmistakable can-do spirit. My son Thomas started the Woods Lake Elementary cello club while in high school and merged that into the brand-new KiT program when it began in 2011, teaching in the program until last fall when he went off to music school. My wife Deb Faling — we met in music school at Kansas and have been collaborating on one crazy thing after another for almost 30 years — is the KiT associate director. And we spend so much time and work so closely with site coordinator Donielle Hetrick and ISS director of elementary sites, Linda Thompson, that they merit status of at least honorary “favorite cousins”!

So what happens at Kids in Tune that makes us all invest so much? How about this as an example: One day after we’d been rehearsing a portion of Mahler’s Symphony #1, a group of students came to me and asked “When do we start Symphony #2?”. It was clear to me in that moment that those kids were experiencing the power of great art in their own way and that they were seeing their life in the program as a great adventure where they are confident that every hard-earned and well-deserved discovery is followed by another one. I hope that by bringing our best to KiT students every day, we provide the opportunity for all 85 of them, every one, to try big things with an expectation that something great will happen, and without any worry that it won’t.