Story by Jeannie Stone
Brian and Shirley Faulkner play everyday. They are music educators in the River Valley and strive to make music fans out of the young and old. Their shared love for making music has enriched countless children and adults in the area.
Brian is also on the run teaching in-service classes to public school teachers around the state. He calls his business Makin’ Music and incorporates teaching music classes to special needs children as well as teaching general music classes to child care centers.
Brian offers services at three Friendship Community Care sites, KidsFirst, sponsored by UAMS in Morrilton; and Step by Step in Perry County.
“My kids will see and touch and blow on 40 plus instruments each year,” he said. His preschoolers learn how sound is made and how instruments work, and are even able to identify band instruments.
“They see stuff from all over the world,” he adds pointing to a silver Turkish drum, an African thumb piano, and an indigenous Australian wood instrument called a didgeridoo.
Brian is proud that his kids outperform other students on tasks relating to music when they mainstream into the kindergarten classroom. “And they are special needs kids,” he said.
Brian also founded and co-directs Common Ground, a local band known for playing oldies and contemporary Christian music. Because they have one of the largest sound systems in Arkansas, Common Ground helps many nonprofits with sound needs.
“Corporate sponsors paid for the sound system,” Brian said. “This community is awesome.” There are 15 members of the band, and they do not charge to perform. As always, however, donations are accepted.
“My whole family was into music,” she said. “But my parents were simple people, and they didn’t talk about going to college after high school. They were good parents, just simple.”
Had it not been for meeting and marrying Brian, she might never have had the opportunity to rekindle her love of music.
“As the director of music at a local church, Brian was approached by church members wanting him to teach music to home- schoolers. I overheard them and thought what a great thing to do – take music to children who weren’t able to access it in the schools. Brian and I sat down right after they left, and that’s when I decided I had to go to college.”
As a student at Tech, Shirley started to sing with the Festival Chorale under the direction of Louis Welcher, a professor of music. Welcher resigned in 2005 due to health reasons, and Shirley approached the Board of Directors who agreed to give her a try at directing the choir.
“This is my fourth year trying,” she said with a laugh.
The Community Choir, as it is now known, offers the people of Russellville a bit of homegrown culture performing several times a year including a summer patriotic pops series and the much heralded Handel’s Messiah medley during the holidays.
“For those type of expenses, we need funding. It takes a lot of people, who don’t make any money, a lot of effort to secure funding.”
The Choir is open to members who are at least 13 years old.
“There is no top (age) limit,” Shirley said, “We have several members in their seventies. We actually have professionally- trained musicians, and we have folks who can’t read a note,” she said. The choir also offers a scholarship, supplied by sponsors, for an accompanist through ATU.
Besides teaching classes in general music education, voice and orchestra to homeschool students, she contracts with the Russellville School District to provide music for the students enrolled in the community-based instruction.
“I absolutely love it,” she said.
Her student’s disabilities ranged from autism and sensory processing issues to retardation and Down Syndrome.
Shirley shared a story on how wondrous music therapy can be.
“I had a severely delayed high school boy who wasn’t verbal, and, at first, he was very resistant to a new teacher. Pretty soon, he realized that I was the one who brought the music, so he would get excited to see me.
“Well, one day when I arrived, the tornado sirens were going off, and our class was ushered into a restroom. That boy didn’t know what all the commotion was about. All he knew was I was there, so it must be time to dance.
“Naturally, all 20 kids danced right there in that cramped bathroom until it was safe to come out.”
“One of my little two-year-old special needs students wasn’t performing for the therapist one day. They were trying to get her to walk. I had the other members of the class playing Jingle Bell Rock, and when she heard the music she got up and danced across the floor. We had, obviously, found her distraction.”
When the Faulkners attended a graduation ceremony at the Adult Education Center in 1999, a 79-year-old lady was receiving her GED. But as she was crossing the stage, the couple noticed there was no music.
The following year, the Faulkners were present as performers rather than observers. And, for the last eight years, a band comprised of volunteer community members has provided the music for the Russellville Adult Education graduation ceremony.
“Music is our gift to the community,” Brian said as he squeezed his wife’s hand.