If your idea of an elementary school music class draws upon your own childhood experience of tinkling triangles, clumsily-crashed cymbals and off-key renditions of "I'm a Little Tea Pot," you'd be stunned to see what kids are doing in Gregg Goldner's classroom.
Goldner, who heads the music program at Quail Run Elementary School in the Marana Unified School District, has as many computers in his classroom as he does musical instruments, and spends as much time on Power Point presentations as he does piccolos.
"There's many ways to learn," said Goldner, who scavenged the computers from other teachers after the school bought a batch of newer models, then spent his summer retrofitting the cast-offs until he had more than 20 of them up and running in his classroom. "Take a little boy who can't stay still in his seat and put him in front of a computer and just watch what happens."
Goldner's technological innovations also include an elaborate web site he created (www.quailrun.topcities.com) that offers his students scripts for upcoming musical productions, practice schedules, and even metronomes to help students keep time while they practice at home.
The performance projects Goldner designs could rival many of the way-off Broadway shows that occasionally blow through Tucson. His plans for an upcoming production of "Sound of Music" has parts for about 25 first through sixth-grade students - not counting the choir, dancer and stagehand positions students will fill.
"Performance is the fun of doing music," said Goldner, a Philadelphia native who earned his degree at Pennsylvania State University before arriving at Quail Run just over a year ago. "When I was growing up with general music classes, I would learn all this stuff and ask 'Is there a purpose to this?' What I eventually learned is that the root purpose of music, besides all the benefits it bestows, is performance."
Parents, students and fellow educators cite his innovative use of technology and the emphasis he places on performance as just two reasons they believe he's a great teacher.
They also point to the less tangible aspects of his teaching method - the youthful enthusiasm the 26-year-old Goldner brings to the classroom and stage, and the clear love of music he conveys to his pupils, as the true key to his success.
"Mr. Goldner is simply wonderful, from his use of web sites, to the way that he just challenges the kids to learn and really gets them involved" said Carol Burton, whose daughter Parri is a fourth grader at Quail Run.
"He always tries to make it fun for us, whatever we do," said Parri, who has played the part Zazu in "The Lion King," one of Goldner's previous extravaganzas. "He makes it more interesting to perform."
Goldner said his love of music came first from his mother, a music teacher who often gave piano lessons in their home.
Summers spent as a teen-ager helping teach music at a Pennsylvania camp cemented his goal of being a music teacher, Goldner said.
"I worked with really great teachers at camp. They showed me what can be accomplished, the effect music can have on children's lives, and how much fun it can be," he said.
Percussion is Goldner's own passion, and he played drums in several jazz ensembles and symphony orchestras in Pennsylvania.
Since moving to Tucson, where his wife is a graduate student in the University of Arizona's writing program, Goldner said he's been too busy with his duties at Quail Run to join any performance groups himself.
Goldner teaches essentially all the children who attend Quail Run, 4600 W. Cortaro Farms Road. He averages about nine classes a day, with each class composed of about 25 students. Add the 100 children in the two band classes he also teaches, and Goldner is one of the busiest people on campus.
Last week found Goldner before a mixed class of fourth and fifth graders and five computer monitors connected to his laptop, which scrolled the script for an upcoming production of "Beauty and the Beast."
While Goldner stresses to his students "the fun of learning and producing music," it's evident that he expects - and receives - much from his students.
The "Beauty and the Beast" script running down the computer screens is not a patronizing, Barney-ized version of the classic tale, but the children seem to have no problem reading their lines for the parts of Gaston and LaFou, and pronouncing "monsieur' with comical, affected French accents.
"Impress her with your rapier wit," exhorts a nine-year-old student reading from a monitor, to appreciative giggles from his classmates.
In an age of tight education budgets, student testing and increased emphasis on the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic, music programs in many districts around the nation have died on the budgetary chopping block.
"Here at Quail Run, I've actually seen my program expand. The district and the school have been incredibly supportive," Goldner said.
Quail Run Principal Carolyn Dumler said she views her school's music program, and Goldner, as an "intrinsic part" of the education process.
"What Mr. Goldner has accomplished here is invaluable. His skills as a teacher, and his sense of innovation are just wonderful and we're very lucky to have him," said Dumler, whose school has garnered national awards for academic excellence.
Goldner said he sees the discipline of music as being a contribution to students' academic success and as a way to reach kids who are struggling with their studies.
"I've experienced it myself in high school. As I became an accomplished musician, I learned that I was good because I practiced, and I could be good at other things, too, if I practiced. And I see that in the kids here. Students who are struggling in their classes find they're good at music, and often find they're good at other subjects. I've watched their whole personalities change. They just bloom," Goldner said.