Spotlight

Sam Pilafian, tuba

Harmony of Coming Home

Frost alum and Miami native returns as teacher: Sam Pilafian brings his diversity and experience back to where it all began.

More Spotlight Stories »

History of Instrumental Music at ‘West Lab’ School

The students and faculty of the Department of Music Education and Music Therapy at the Frost School of Music have been providing instrumental music instruction for brass and winds for 40 years at the Henry S. West Laboratory Elementary School, adjacent to the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus. The music program was the result of an energetic educational experiment and collaboration between William F. Lee when he was dean of the UM School of Music (1964-1982) and Patricia L. Frost when she served as principal of ‘West Lab.’  Unique to the program was a groundbreaking idea: Patricia Frost insisted that every student in the school—plus their parents—and every teacher in the school—learn a musical instrument. As a result, music was incorporated into the entire curriculum, students excelled in all subjects, and West Lab became a model school with a very long waiting list.

The late faculty-composer John Kinyon was highly involved in the implementation of the music program, as was a teaching assistant named Vernon Burnsed (now professor of music education at Virginia Tech).  Their collaboration with William Lee and Patricia Frost was so successful—and positively impacted the lives of thousands of elementary school children and their families—that, even 30 years later, it inspired Phillip and Patricia Frost to become the School’s naming benefactors—one of the many reasons we proudly call ourselves the Frost School of Music. 

The Music Education Program Today

Today, the program is still administered by the Frost School of Music and is called The Music Education (MED) Program.  The Frost School sponsors both wind band and string instruction for beginning and advancing instrumental music classes for children in grades 4 and 5.  (String instruction was added in 1987 by professor of music education and associate dean, Nicholas DeCarbo, who remains the program supervisor.) Teaching assistants from the MED Program coordinate the program, and undergraduate students enrolled in Music Education teach the classes and earn essential field experience.  The elementary students perform in two concerts each year, in December and May.

Henry S. West Laboratory School Information

Henry S. West Laboratory School was established in 1954 as the result of a legal agreement entered into by the Miami Dade County Public Schools and the University of Miami, defining the school as a laboratory research facility.

It has, for the past 56 years, been able to offer an outstanding learning program to approximately 300 elementary students (K - 6) and over 200 university students yearly in its campus style setting.

Student enrollment at West Lab is voluntary, open to all students in the county, and controlled by a Board approved admissions policy.

The school provides the clinical environment for psychological and educational research and development which is of great value to the Dade County Public Schools and the University of Miami staff.

One hundred percent of the parents grant the University of Miami and MDCPS staff permission for their children to be actively involved in educational research, thus providing an unbiased sample population for investigation.

Students involved in the latest experimental educational programs appreciate the value of critical thinking and evaluation. They also develop a positive self-image due to the frequent interaction with goal oriented adults who rely on them to accomplish their objectives.

Each student at West Lab is a learner and a teacher.