LawtonCongratulations to Richard Lawton Summer, 2016 Recipient of ACEMM’s Spotlight Award

“My kids…understand that the place we connect musically isn’t a space I have created for them, but something that they own and can have a hand in shaping.”
– Richard Lawton

A “Wonderland” of Learning

For the past seven years, Richard Lawton has worked at the Wonderland Avenue School in Los Angeles.  There he has the privilege of teaching general music to the entire elementary school, along with teaching three elective ensembles:   World Music Ensemble, Chorus, and the Coyote String Band, which is a bluegrass group.  “His classes are well-known and appreciated for being extremely hands-on, movement based, interactive sessions that culminate in performances multiple times per year,” says Friends of Wonderland CFO and parent Leila Pirnia.  Performance highlights of the year include the Winter Wonderland Concert, the Renaissance Faire, as well as a final concert for the fifth graders.  “[Richard] puts together a wonderful culmination ceremony for the 5th graders that always leaves the audience smiling, and often in tears,” says fifth-grade teacher Zach Earl.

The neighborhood where Wonderland is located has been a vibrant part of the Los Angeles rock music scene, and Richard has worked hard to bring local culture into his music classes.  When he uses rock music in his teaching, he also delves into the history of the music itself by using country, blues, and American folk music to teach fundamental skills and techniques.  “Using homespun material has the advantage of being more relevant to students and more likely to engage their imaginations.  And it lends a sense of community to our music-making,” writes Richard.

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A Hands-On Experience

Numerous colleagues, students, and parents noted Richard’s use of hands-on activities.  “He lets us play instruments and sing songs,” remarks fifth-grader Maya Lopez.  One day, for example, second graders use a theremin as an inspiration for movement, while third graders both play the recorder and create the motions for the school’s annual Renaissance Faire.  When the fourth graders learn about magnetism and electricity in science, Richard offers them the opportunity to actually make an electric guitar.  “These would be amazing culminating projects for any music teacher to do with their students, but for Richard, this is status quo, day in and day out,” comments Zach Earl.

In His Own Words

“To me, the most compelling reason for teaching in an elemental style is the inclusiveness of elemental music.  The music programs I participated in growing up emphasized technique as the primary focus of instruction and the only real measure for success.  There is nothing wrong with encouraging students to develop excellent technique, but it should not come first, particularly with young musicians.  Instead, our primary focus as educators should be on the expression of ideas and of individual identity, playful invention, collaborating with other musicians, and playing with authenticity.  These are, after all, the things that attract kids to music in the first place.”  – Richard Lawton

Richard in Action

A second grade class’ theremin-inspired movement improvisation:

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Wonderland Avenue Music – Theremin Improv #1

The Coyote String Band’s typical warm-up:

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Wonderland Music – Coyote String Band – “Jam on G” 2016

Third grade performance from this year’s Renaissance Faire:

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2016 Wonderland Ren Faire – “Ungaresca” – Third Grade

What Parents, Students, and Colleagues are saying about Richard

“As a strong believer in the in the value of arts in education I have been so impressed by Richard’s dedication to creating a program that is so creative in the way he interweaves music and movement and allows for their voices to be heard.”
– Cathy Weiss, 3rd grade teacher

“He is a true treasure for Wonderland Elementary and we are lucky to have his skill, dedication, and passion to enrich our students’ lives!”
-Leila Pirnia, Friends of Wonderland Board Member and Parent

“…I feel that any chance kids get to play an instrument is a huge and impactful thing in their lives, so I truly appreciate his presence at our school. The confidence they have gained from learning a new skill and performing the music is priceless. You can feel his love and knowledge of the music, and he is great at communicating that to the kids.”
– Marieke Boorman, parent at Wonderland Elementary

“Regarding music education from all perspectives, my professional (and parental) impression is that Mr. Lawton teaches in a way that will remain with our children always. His grace and enthusiasm are heart-felt emotions coming from his love for music – not only his rare skill as a musician. He teaches performance techniques that are difficult to master, and then with his gusto, makes it easy for children to play with confidence and joy. And when you see the children performing in their grand little band, you can’t help but feel a smile coming on as you watch and hear Lawton’s talent spread into the hearts of our children.”
– Judith Aller, parent at Wonderland Elementary

“…I love when he teaches us new songs and turns them into games. I also love when he teaches us new songs from around the world.”
– Skylar Mailloux, 2nd grader

“Richard Lawton is the most incredible music teacher ever…”
– Jasmine Davis-Bonk, 4th Grader

“He challenges the students to make music with their whole body, in movement, in percussion, in dance, etc. They sing, they compose, they play, they learn. What more could you ask of an amazing music teacher?”
– Zach Earl, 5th grade teacher at Wonderland Elementary

“[Richard Lawton] is such a special and important person in [the children’s] lives, making music theory and appreciation accessible to all. He strives to challenge our students to think critically and creatively about music. The lessons he teaches are fun, engaging and challenging. What he is able to get our children to do constantly amazes me!”
– Shira Epstein, 3rd grade teacher at Wonderland Elementary