Wednesday, April 21, 2010

6 weeks

Image from Fiddleheads

6 weeks. That is all that remains of the 4th-8th grade orchestra.

Last night the school board unanimously approved all proposed cuts. Several teachers and programs suffered reductions of 10-51%: band, elementary general music, gym, health, guidance, and the gifted and talented program. Both orchestra and pre-K were eliminated entirely.

Many students, parents, teachers, and community members turned out to voice their support for the instrumental programs. Some students played their instruments, others spoke quite passionately about what music means to them. One student brought tears to my eyes. "Some people are good at sports, others art. I'm not. I am good at music, and it is what makes me special," he stated, "Without music I am nothing, just a sixth grade nothing."

I understand budgets must be reconciled, and money is tight right now, but I question the direction. What is the long term plan? Will programs and positions continue to be reduced to the point where it is impossible to offer students high quality instruction? Even with the approved cuts the school is still coming up short. The outlook seems murky at best. There is an unsettling lack of vision and practical solutions. After the meeting a colleague said, "When will education be about serving the needs of students and community, not administrators and accountants?"

Orchestra was tough to teach today. The kids were aching. The only option was to let go and make beautiful music together. And we did.

How are the schools in your area fairing?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In defense...

When March comes in like a lion, she leaves like a lamb.

Or so it says.

March was a roaring beast of activity: 7th & 8th grade band tour, Solo & Ensemble, performances by 4th-8th grade bands and orchestras at Fine Arts Night, a performance of the national anthem at an NBA game, and the end of an action-packed third quarter.

The students have much to be proud of. Not only did they gave stellar spot-on performances of the repertoire, but they noticeably advanced their skills and achieved new levels of musicianship. The 4th grade orchestra and 5th grade bands even eagerly composed music for their own instruments- a task that intimidates many full grown musicians (myself included). They are ready for more action, but I don't think the upcoming action is what was in mind...

Fine Arts Night, the NBA game, and end of quarter fell within a single week. It was exhausting and incredibly stressful- mostly because I had learned some devastating news a few days before the performances. Due to budget issues the principal/superintendent (yup- two posts, one guy) recommended reducing the band and orchestra program by at least 50%, even proposing total elimination. My heart felt shriveled into a little prune when I heard the proposal. I felt like I was in a nature documentary where I was the injured zebra who did not notice the lioness stalking in the grass.

My mind raced. Why? How am I to defend the program as an interim teacher, especially when it is clear I am being excluded from information on purpose? What do I say to the kids? Do I say anything to the kids? Yes, you must.

I inflated myself back up and waited for the right time to speak with each class- after the big performances were over. The students did not need that information to burden them while preparing for such big events. This ranks as one of the most difficult things I have had to do. Of course the students were rightfully upset. It felt odd as one who constantly encourages young artists to get in touch with the affective qualities of music to tell students to not be mad, but to be smart. Talk to the folks at home. Express your concerns and why music is important to you. Encourage the folks at home to contact the superintendent and the school board. Come to the school board meeting. Always be polite and civil. Always.

I recall one of the music education professors told the class there would be a day when we would be required to defend the value of music in the schools and justify our place in education. I just didn't expect it to be so soon. However, I am ready to battle for the students and for their program.

I will not be the zebra.
This time I will be the lion.