Congratulations to Premila Mistry October, 2016 Recipient of ACEMM’s Spotlight Award
“Giving the students an opportunity to express themselves in a way that is very different from other classes gives me great joy”
~ Premila Mistry
Premila Mistry exemplifies the dedication and passion of a music teacher – many of her days begin with rehearsals well before school and continue in the evenings with rehearsals for a community youth marimba ensemble known as Stick + Bars. A veteran teacher of 18 years, Ms. Mistry has settled into Washington D.C. and currently teaches Pre K – 5 grades at John Eaton Elementary School in Washington, D.C. where she has been for 3 years.
As a seasoned elemental music teacher, Premila uses a variety of strategies to reach her students. From the beginning they experience an Orff-based music program where Pre-K’s learn to sing, move, use small percussion and interpret songs and stories using props. As they grow older, more musical options become available – un-pitched and barred instruments, body percussion, rhythmic speech and drums. Her energetic teaching style sets the stage for a lively music class and students anticipate music classes with her.
“From the smallest students to the older ones, I can see their excitement when they walk into class.”
Students have the option to join the Eaton Choir for Grades 3-5 which focuses on songs from many cultures, in various genres and styles. As Premila observes, “It can open their eyes to value cultural differences and make them aware of places in the world, near and far.”
In addition, 16 lucky students are chosen on a first come, first served basis to play in the Eaton Marimba Ensemble which meets 3 times a week before school. Here they become skilled percussionists. According to Premila, “They take ensemble playing to greater heights – playing intricate syncopated rhythms on xylophones, marimbas and drums. Last year, the marimba ensemble excelled, they composed their own piece in 7/8 time and in D minor!”
Each spring, Eaton mounts a school musical, and Premila serves as Co-Director. Last spring, the school presented Lion King, Jr. Being part of a school that values her gifts and experience has brought her great joy.
“I have been so excited to be at a school where Orff pedagogy is welcome and I can share my knowledge of world music with the students and community.”
The demand for such an ensemble came from the youth themselves. As initiates in barred instrument and marimba playing in elementary school, they were used to meeting before school to practice with their small ensembles. However, the students found that as they moved on to middle school, they missed the camaraderie and playing challenges. They came to Ms. Mistry to discuss this ‘missing piece’ in their lives. At the same time, Premila became aware of the need for a meaningful outlet for youth to enjoy music-making in an ensemble setting, without the expense of private lessons. Inspired by her former students’ enthusiasm and driven by her own awareness of this need, she set to work to find funding, rehearsal space and organizational structure. With help from local agencies and friends, Sticks + Bars has flourished and grown. It has performed at events throughout the D.C. area such as “Zimfest,” the D.C. area’s first Zimbabwean Music Festival, various farmer’s markets and many other scheduled events. Sticks +Bars has come a long way from its inception 3 years ago. Recently they were invited to perform at the AOSA Conference in Atlantic City which will take place in November. Activities now center around choosing music and rehearsing, in addition to raising the necessary funds to make the trip to Atlantic City.
Premila has created a meaningful connection between John Eaton Elementary School and Sticks + Bars players who have contributed to the musical life at the school.
“When our school put on the production of Lion King, Jr. I hired three high school students who are members of Sticks + Bars. It was a terrific addition to the show, and opened up a new world for Eaton students, allowing them to see how percussion music can be played beyond elementary years, and that knowing ‘how to play music’ can land you a job!”
By extending the elemental approach beyond the elementary school years, Premila has seen her how relevant this approach remains with older students.
“…Starting with the fundamentals of pentatonic study, using speech and body percussion to familiarize themselves with rhythm patterns has enabled them to play with confidence and explore new arenas – such as becoming student composers!”
“It gives me great pleasure … seeing them continue to play percussion using the elemental approach… (they) develop an ear and deeper understanding of music – not only by playing a piece but understanding how it is put together…, how to arrange a piece of music which is interesting and musically challenging.”
Ms. Mistry is an extraordinary teacher of music that joined our learning community two years ago. Our school has not been the same since her coming! Our students absolutely love going to music class each week! A student recently shared, “Music class is more than music!” The student is correct because in Ms. Mistry’s class students learn music and movement together. Students sing, play Orff instruments, use their body, and simply immerse themselves in a rich sound of great music. Parents and other visitors to our school are always surprised at the wonderful music that seeps into the hallways near Ms. Mistry’s classroom. The passion and joy that Ms. Mistry brings to her class makes it easy for her to ignite that same love for music in her students. Here at Eaton, we believe in educating the “whole child.” …Ms. Mistry has certainly been a key catalyst in supporting our students with a rich elementary academic experience. We are so happy to have Ms. Mistry in our community to engage the next generation of musicians!
– Dale Mann, Principal, Jaqueline Anderson, Assistant Principal, John Eaton Elementary School
…Premila collaborated with me, serving as the musical director (of Lion King, Jr.) Ms. Mistry regularly contributed creative and innovative pieces to this production… coached and advised nearly 60 young students as both vocalists and percussionists. Her expertise in percussion and marimba added to our show as many of her students served in our live orchestra… Premila repeatedly added genius touches to an already spectacular score. Without her support, guidance, and expertise, our production would have ended as a run of the mill elementary school play. Ms. Mistry helped to create memorable learning experiences for all, both the students and adults. The energy with which her students connect with her is inspirational and the endless amount of time and effort she puts forth…is to be admired.
– Anthony Tarzia, Co-Director, John Eaton Elementary School Spring Musical
…Ms.Mistry just said, “Let’s start something new here at Haynes (Elementary School). Let’s make a marimba ensemble!” I started coming after school…to practice this new type of music on an all-too-foreign instrument, and eventually after a few more big performances (good, bad, and in-between) I fell in love with it.….Sticks and Bars… has a special place in my heart. I consider all whom I play with (as) my family, whether they are new, or old. Music has a powerful way of bringing people together, and in our adolescence we embrace this through creativity, and determination, yes, but more importantly, through fun, and love.
– Hasan Lopez, member of Sticks + Bars
…I have personally grown in music so much through being a part of marimba…. not only my musical capabilities to play, but I also have a musical ear now and can read music. My mom says she has seen my confidence grow over time while being in Marimba (Sticks + Bars). Performing in front of large audiences no longer causes me to become nervous. I am confident in myself and my peers in marimba whenever we play. Marimba Ensemble has not only helped me grow musically but as a person. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to have Ms. Mistry not only as a music instructor but for just being a part of my life.
– Jasmin Woodruff, member of Sticks + Bars
My 16 year – old son has been growing as a musician with Ms. Mistry since elementary school. We are so privileged to work with a teacher who displays unwavering dedication to her students. It takes a true visionary to lead children of all backgrounds, ages, and experience through their individual musical journeys, collectively. Ms. Mistry knows how to elicit the talent of her students, through rehearsal, respect, and discipline. Some of my best days as a parent have been spent watching her students come to life through their music. She creates unique performance opportunities for the students to learn showmanship and hone their craft.
– Kyla Skine, parent of Sticks + Bars member Hasan Lopez
…As long as I’ve known Premila Mistry, her passion has been introducing children to the joys of music. She routinely moves mountains to create opportunities for them to learn, perform, compose and collaborate. Her Sticks + Bars Youth Marimba Ensemble is a great example. She has had to switch practice venues six times in 3 years, but she always makes it work. Congratulations, Premila, and thank you!
– Sandra M. Foote, Sticks + Bars Supporter, Volunteer and Fan
To help Sticks + Bars reach Atlantic City for their performance, make a donation by going to the Fractured Atlas website where you access Sticks + Bars.
ACEMM congratulates Premila Mistry on the supportive comments from colleagues, parents and administrators. Her efforts have not only benefitted the students she teaches but have awakened an understanding among the larger community that music and movement education can have a powerful impact on the social and aesthetic development of young people.