Fort Smith Symphony: Beyond the Stage & Into the Classroom

After many years of scientific data, studies and evaluation, we all know what musicians have been saying for thousands of years. Music is good for you!

An active study of a musical instrument can have very positive effects on people. More recent research shows the value of music for young people. Yes, music can make you smarter. It has been proven that the study of music can lead to better math scores, stronger communication skills, more successful multi-tasking abilities, greater creativity, more empathy and a universal outlook on the world. A recent study showed that music can help economically disadvantaged students tip the scales towards a more successful future with higher test scores and graduation rates.

With this knowledge, the Fort Smith Symphony has been involved with educating youth in the greater Fort Smith region for almost two decades. In addition to presenting wonderful concerts, the Symphony’s award-winning educational programs now touch 8,000 to 10,000 students each year at over fifty schools in Fort Smith and the greater River Valley region. Countless area students have become involved in their school music programs as a result of hearing both the symphony and smaller in-school performing ensembles. In many respects, these educational initiatives are the most important things the Fort Smith Symphony does each year. These programs are offered to all participating schools free of charge thanks to sponsors.

Third grade  Combining music and literacy, Storybook Strings presents fun and dramatic readings of famous children’s books accompanied by live original music to third grade students. These performance presentations include readings with music of such books as Chicka-Chicka Boom-Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, along with The Crimson Comet by Dean Morrissey. Performances/presentations are given by a string quartet of professional musicians from the Fort Smith Symphony as well as an actor/narrator.

Fourth grade  The Kool Cats Jazz Quartet gives exciting and educational performance presentations to fourth grade students. This professional jazz ensemble presents an engaging and concise history of jazz. The Kool Cats emphasize jazz as an American musical tradition, illustrates how jazz and improvisation works, and highlights the stories of the great legends of jazz.

Fifth grade  Symphony-in-the-Schools presents concerts to fifth grade students. Pieces from different genres are used to illustrate the building blocks of music including rhythm, pitch and sound projection.

Sixth grade  Earquake! is a full orchestra, multi-media interactive program for 4,000 sixth grade students.  Young people come to the ArcBest Performing Arts Center in downtown Fort Smith to attend one of three performances.  These concerts showcase the full symphony orchestra playing exciting music including a brand new work commissioned especially for the occasion.

The composer of the new work is in attendance to introduce the new piece and interact with the audience. A young concerto soloist is featured as well as dancers from the Western Arkansas Ballet. The Symphony’s fully-electronic string quartet called “Jolt” performs a classic rock ‘n’ roll piece and the entire performance is projected live/live edited on large video screens in the concert hall.

Students in the audience are treated to instrument demonstrations including trying out (playing) different instruments before the performances begin. Study guides are sent to all schools in advance to help students prepare for the event. The overall goal of these programs is to expose young people to music and the arts, to encourage students to consider learning an instrument, and to emphasize the importance of music and creativity in young people’s lives.

To find out more and become a Fort Smith Symphony educational sponsor, visit

John Jeter, Music Director, Fort Smith Symphony

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