I probably should take more time to organize my thoughts, but I want to get this out for discussion as quickly as possible so I’ll apologize for a rambling, potentially incoherent, and otherwise imperfect post.
With word that both the HS Band Director and the HS Vocal Director are retiring, the vultures are circling. They are seeing this series of events as the opportunity to make changes to the programs. Perhaps one person could do both jobs, do band and chorus really need to meet daily? Of course, the people making these suggestions have never been a part of a quality music program but that doesn’t stop them from thinking that they know how the programs should work.
The question is: What kind of music program do you want? If the goal is to continue to provide a complete education for the students, the programs as is they currently exist are, at best, adequate. There should be more staffing, not less, if we really want to do this correctly.
When we started the process of merging our two schools, there were six full-time music positions. Now there are three and one-half positions. We have continued to deliver the same program but that cannot continue if there are further cuts in staffing.
We are currently classified as a 2A school and you’d have to look long and hard to find a school our size where band and chorus do not meet daily. If you do find such a school, you will find that the programs do not include the elements that our community has become seemingly valued over the years. While those programs might take the field during football season, they are not developing and performing a competition style show and are probably not participating in any marching band festivals or contests. If they are participating in contests, they are starting to work on the fall show in April or May and continue to work on the show over the summer with the directors and students giving up what should be free time to make everything work. They may or may not have a jazz band or show choir that participates in contests. They certainly do not have the track record of Division I ratings at state festivals that directors here have delivered over the past sixty years.
People that have never been a part of a quality ensemble do not understand the work involved in producing that quality. I have had many students tell me that the hardest work they do at school every day is playing their instrument in band. They are required to think and adapt their performance in real time to match the performance of other students. They are constantly evaluating their own performance and that of the other students to produce something of value that only exists for a short time. When done correctly, it is an extremely tiring mental process that involves virtually every part of the brain. Then they do it again the next day. They are not simply playing music. The are decoding a complex system of symbols to create meaning (kind of sounds like reading, doesn’t it – no wonder that music students tend to be better readers than non-music students).
If it’s ok to teach music every other day, let’s try that with Math, Science, and Language. But wait, I hear you say, those are core subjects and need to be taught daily. Exactly. According to the Federal government, music is a core subject and should be treated as such. Music has been a core subject probably longer than English has been a language (certainly longer than what we would recognize as English). The ancient Greeks understood, Pythagoras studied music. Plato listed music as one of the few things that every student should study. In the 1500’s Martin Luther used music to teach his congregation to read and said music study should be required. Every culture that we have studied has developed some form of music, it is an important part of the human experience and deserves to be studied.
We have decades and reams of research on the value of music education. How it helps students do better in language and math classes. How it fundamentally changes the connections between the right and left lobes of the brain. But none of that seems to matter because it doesn’t make sense to those who have never sat in an ensemble and witnessed the joy, the magic, and the life-changing experience that happens almost daily for our students.
I don’t know who reads this as it is mostly just a place for me to rant about things that matter to me but if you’re reading this and you’re concerned you should consider this a call to action. If you want our school music program to continue, pay attention and get involved.
Everyone wants music to exist, they want to listen to it in the car as they are traveling, they want workout mixes, they surround themselves with music but they don’t want to teach anyone about it. I don’t get it, but then again, as usual, I got nuthin‘.