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Steve Powell is the Music Man in the The Daily Item - May 28, 2003
Daily Item'Music Man' a hit in Saugus

By Chris Stevens
Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Steven Powell, the man they call "the music man," has gained a following of young students who have grown to love classical music.

A self-proclaimed classical music fanatic, Powell approached Veterans Memorial School Principal Vic Leone on the day he retired five years ago with the idea of a music appreciation class for grades 3, 4 and 5.

"I'd had the idea for years," Powell said. "I just really wanted to do this. It was like a big balloon full of air, and I just had to let it out before it exploded."

Powell said he thought if he could get three or four kids interested in classical music it would be a success. The class, however, has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Leone said keeping the students attention was a key for him, but when Powell showed similarities between classical music and groups like the Beatles, "he had them from day one."

Powell said he would use nearly any means to capture the kid's attention. When the Cartoon Network ran a 24-hour Bugs Bunny marathon, Powell said he taped it and edited it down to the cartoons that focused solely on classical music.

He also managed to integrate history and geography in the lessons by pointing out pertinent facts. For example, Beethoven and George Washington were contemporaries.

"The kids loved it," he added. "I have another video I use that has a character that goes through everything Beethoven went through. The kids really relate."

Initially, Powell said he thought Beethoven would provide a starting-off point for the kids. But even though he branches out to include Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Prokofiev, the students always come back to Beethoven.

According to Powell, Beethoven was once arrested for vagrancy, he was also locked in the basement by his father because his father complained he didn't practice enough. He had family troubles, lost his hearing and had difficulties with relationships. It is stories such as those that the kids latch onto, Powell said.

"They realize he was not this high-up person," Powell said. "He was just like them."

Powell's love for classical music stemmed from his father, who introduced him to "the light stuff," such as Brahms.

"According to my dad, I could pick out Strauss labels on sight," Powell said of his early classical experience. "I certainly couldn't read at 4 or 5 . . . I just went crazy over it."

His biggest influence was his own high school music teacher.

Along with teaching at the Vets School, Powell also runs his program at the Oaklandvale and Evans schools.

"Unfortunately, I can't do more than that," he said. "Or I'd spread myself too thin."

Leone said Powell makes an effort to see every pupil in the school, even if they don't take his class, and Powell carries around a brief case of classical CDs and hands them out to whomever will take them.

If Powell was afraid his class wouldn't make an impression, he needn't have worried. "I tell them I can't make them like the music, all I can ask you to do is sit and listen."

One recent afternoon, Powell said a sixth-grader stopped by his house while he was out in his yard to tell him she had received a 96 on a classical music test thanks to what he had taught her. Another student told how he had aced an MCAS question on Beethoven.

"It's tremendously rewarding," he said. "It's gone way beyond my expectations. I certainly never expected it to be this big."

"You are a sage onstage," Leone said with a laugh. "(Powell) opened a window for kids they wouldn't normally have had opened for them. The class just spiraled out of his love for music."

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Steve Powell ans the kids in the Saugus Advertiser - May 29, 2003

Saugus AdvertiserElementary students learn about Beethoven

By Lisa Guerriero /
Thursday, May 29, 2003

The 18th century composer - not the cinematic St. Bernard

Roll over, Beethoven - the younger generation has taken an interest in you. It isn't easy for a dead composer to compete with the likes of Eminem and Marilyn Manson, but classical music has a modern interpreter on its side - Steve Powell.

And Powell is eager to share a lifetime of music appreciation with the children of Saugus.

Powell, 66, a former electronics research and developer, had the idea of teaching classical appreciation years ago, but he didn't have the time until he retired.

"When I retired my wife said, 'You better find something to do,'" Powell said. "'You're not going to get under my feet.'"

Powell pitched his idea to the Evans, Veteran's Memorial and Oaklandvale schools, to the delight of administrators and teachers. He took his show on the road four years ago, but found the path was a little rocky at first.

For one thing, most of his students were under the impression that Beethoven is a big, sloppy St. Bernard who stars in his own movies. Changing that image to a deaf musical genius in 18th-century Germany was a tough job. But the key to capturing a young audience, Powell said, is the stories.

"When I'm doing the class, I'm a fanatic," Powell said. "I may be 66 years old, but when I start talking Beethoven, I am Beethoven. I yell, stomp like he would have."

Powell's classical world doesn't revolve around Beethoven, but Ludwig is a cornerstone of the curriculum because children get to know the man behind the symphonies.

"With Beethoven we have everything, a man, a composer, a slob who was arrested and put in jail as a vagrant," Powell said. "His father beat him, [the children] say 'Wow, what a mean guy' and now they feel sorry for him. You have to have the stories to go with the music or there's a vacuum."

During the first classes, Powell starts off with "light stuff" like the polkas of Johann Strauss, which intrigue children with the sounds of trains or gunshots. He might play a Bugs Bunny cartoon that uses a classical soundtrack to enhance the action, which is sure to surprise children with its familiarity. All classes view "Beethoven Lives Upstairs," a film that tells the story of Beethoven's later years from the perspective of a child who lives in the same house as the composer.

During a "love-dovey piece," Powell might get on his knees in front of a student and ask her if she is in love. Given the age of the students, the question usually prompts a chorus of "ewwwww."

"But then I ask her, how can you not be in love when you hear this," Powell said. "They can relate to that better than if I threw a CD on the boombox and said 'Listen to this.'"

By the end of the year, the children can rattle off a list of composers from Brahams to Haydn to Vivaldi. Powell avoids musical terms that will "scare away" young listeners, but the children can communicate ideas about the music in their own right.

"These kids can talk for 15-20 minutes about Beethoven," Powell said. "They can tell you when he was born, when he died, the main theme of the fourth symphony."

The students' knowledge is put to the test in an annual competition. The children are asked to expound upon their knowledge of composers and the winners are posted at, a Web site Powell uses as an instructional tool.

"I like Mozart, Beethoven and J.S. Bach," said Madison Tomalillo, a fifth grader. "I listen to it at home. Sometimes I listen with [my parents]."

Seeing it first hand

On Tuesday the students at the Veteran's Memorial School were treated to a performance by three women who train at the Boston Conservatory. The program was arranged by fourth grade teacher June Mamana, Principal Victor Leone and Powell.

"This piece is really special for us, because the program started out with nothing," Powell said. "Four years ago it was set up as a trial thing."

A pianist, a cellist and a violinist performed the "Archduke Trio," a varyingly jazzy and mellow piece that is arguably Beethoven's best trio work. The 45-minute performance even had some students playing air piano.

"I liked seeing it better," said Zach Apony, a fifth grader. "It's more interesting to see them as they do it."

Children often tell Powell their classical background helped them learn to play an instrument or pass a music test, or that a parent has taken a liking to one of their classical CDs. It gives Powell hope that students will take their love of the music throughout life, as he has for more than 50 years.

"I tell them they don't get marked, and you don't get in trouble if you don't like the music," Powell said. "I'm just opening a door for you to hear music you don't normally hear."

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