Skip to Main Content

National Honors Are Music to Math Professor’s Ears

Two national honors, thanks in part to Kalamazoo College mathematics professor Eric Barth, are providing a local children’s music program with recognition and funds for expansion.

Mathematics Professor Eric Barth Conducts Kalamazoo Kids in Tune National Honors

Photo by Liz Youker, Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. Kalamazoo College mathematics professor Eric Barth helps children develop their interest in music through Kalamazoo Kids in Tune, which is earning two national honors.

Barth has served as the curriculum director and conductor of Kalamazoo Kids in Tune (KKIT), an afterschool orchestra immersion program available to first- through eighth-graders, since its inception in summer 2012. Such work is earning KKIT:

  • a Carnegie Hall PlayUSA award. Such awards support instrumental music-education programs benefiting low-income and underserved youths; and
  • National Arts and Humanities Youth Program honors that recognize 50 outstanding creative youth-development programs across the country for their work in providing excellent arts and humanities learning opportunities.

Barth’s KKIT duties might sound unusual for a math professor although music’s connections with math are boundless. Rhythms, scales, time signatures and more allow musicians to build valuable skills and talents through practice.

“My undergraduate degree was in music,” said Barth, who also has a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in mathematics, all from the University of Kansas. He said when he got involved with KKIT, “that inner musician kind of came out,” putting him in a role the organization needed. That role allows him to take the symphony orchestra music difficult for children and compose easier, yet meaningful music for them.

“Often the kids will recognize the music because it’s in movies and on television,” Barth said. “Through careful edits, we strip out the hard stuff, while offering a chance to perform music that moves the audience.”

Each student in KKIT selects an instrument to study and participates in group lessons and orchestra rehearsals. By learning to play instruments in an ensemble setting, students develop a sense of community while building mastery and resilience, skills that provide success in classrooms. The program and instruments are provided free of charge to participants, thanks to several local foundations, businesses and individuals. The program is a collaboration of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo Public Schools.

About 85 participants a year have learned in the dedicated classes that have integrated music lessons and orchestra rehearsals in a culture of kindness to one’s self and others. However, the Carnegie honors will allow the program to grow. In addition, Carnegie representatives will visit KKIT participants in November, and group organizers will visit New York for an event at Carnegie Hall in February.

Barth said the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program recognition provides evidence that the quality of KKIT places the program among the best in the nation and shines a spotlight on the arts scene in Kalamazoo.

KKIT previously has been featured in publications such as the Huffington Post and shows such as WGVU’s “Kalamazoo Lively Arts.” Other videos with more information are available in this promotion and through Public Media Unit GVSU.