Portland’s iconic Kotzschmar Organ, donated over a century ago by publishing mogul Cyrus Curtis and the centerpiece of Merrill Auditorium ever since, has become the inspiration for a progressive, multifaceted education program in Maine schools. Developed by the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ (FOKO) nonprofit, the curriculum includes a series of events, presentations, and in-school courses. One such event is the Kotzscharama, which utilizes the intricate components and functions of the Kotzschmar Organ to explain concepts in subjects as diverse as physics, mathematics, and history.
Led by Portland’s own municipal organist, Ray Cornils, FOKO’s education programs employ the music of composers like Johann Sebastian Bach and Olivier Messiaen; Cornils guides students through pieces by these composers on the portable “Kotzschmar Junior” pipe organ and the continuo—an instrument similar to a harpsichord. He explains that the Kotzschmar Organ, when looked at objectively, “can be approached from historical, mathematical, scientific, artistic, musical, sociological, and emotional viewpoints. Making these connections and comparisons models for students the interconnectivity of our lives and living. It is exciting and rewarding to open these vistas to other human beings.”
Meghan Andrews-Wright, music director at Hartford-Sumner Elementary School, has been involved with FOKO’s education programs like Kotzscharama and Kotzschmar 4 Kids for the past four years. “I feel events like this are truly special learning opportunities for students,” she says. “The beauty of the Kotzscharama day was that it called upon students’ prior knowledge and expanded it, while offering opportunities to be creative and expressive, learn new vocabulary, and take an active role in hands-on learning.”
The Kotzscharama is made possible by two grants: the Maine’s Arts Commission Grant, which supports programs that offer high-quality artistic learning experiences for students across the state and the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust. “Opportunities for integrated, cross-disciplinary learning that excites and engages students are always welcome,” says Andrews-Wright. “The Kotzschmar 4 Kids program and the Kotzscharama event have done just that, and I hope other schools and students will be able to experience it in the future.”