Sunday, October 14, 2012

Music is more than just a prep period....

I read this LATimes article and was heartbroken. My husband, who is a saxophonist, and I were talking about his students and how finally, after three years they are starting to be able to really play. This is with kids he gets to see once a week, who do not get to take home instruments because there are not enough for everyone. Music makes kids want to stay around the school. It gives them something to be proud of, something they alone accomplished but do communally. It is one of the first times many children have to work together for a goal where just their personal effort doesn't cut it. If you sing or play the wrong note, everyone looks bad. But when you work hard, try your best, and succeed…there is no better feeling. This skill of playing music with a group is like no other. Parents in upper middle class schools ALWAYS have ridiculously good music and arts programs because it is understood that these programs make for a well rounded child and a well rounded adult.

So why is it that we don't have the same standards for our urban schools? Why is it that the music program is consistently treated like a prep period for a classroom teacher (which is actually how music programs are able to exist…for real)? Music is important to the well being of children. It's a place where creativity, information and cooperative learning mix, which is what every employer is asking for; the ability to be creative in finding solutions and working constructively towards a goal.

In this article a high school music teacher took a group of kids from a tough neighborhood who didn't know anything about music and turned them into an award winning band. And then he was fired.  Oh, he was hired back, did a great job,  and won awards again. And then he was fired again. Kinda makes one feel like people don't appreciate what you do. This teacher decided to just goto another school district where he could just stay and do his job without having to worry whether he would have a job every year. The implication from the article was that the school where he is now employed was not in an impoverished area.

Music is an intangible. Knowledge of music has been the mark of educated upper middle class people for a very, very long time.  There is a reason for this. Good teachers of music can make sure that students walk into the door of a school, especially in the very tenuous high school years when kids need a reason to deal with rigorous homework and class schedule that they don't really feel affects their daily lives or futures. People say they want music in the schools. It's time for us to really understand why.  Middle and upper middle class parents won't let their children out of their house unless they are in choir or take an instrument of some sort for at least 6 months. It's time we as a country understand that just the three Rs won't cut it in our schools.

Although glad to have put a band together in his first year at the school, Vizcarra did not want to settle. He pushed his students, taking the group of new musicians to competitions. 
They soon were winning so many competitions that trophies filled their classroom's shelves and spilled onto the floor. 
"There was just something magical with my students at Fairfax," he said. "I would be in tears by the end of their performances." 
Last month, Vizcarra's former band students threw him a birthday party. They presented him with a scrapbook and photo album depicting silly moments and performances. 
"To the best music teacher we have ever had,"(emphasis mine) they wrote on the scrapbook's first page. "You are such an amazing person. An awesome friend. A father to us most. Thanks for everything you did for us." 
The Fairfax band's absence has been strongly felt this fall. The school's football team is playing on a newly built field, which held its first game this season without music.


  1. Alexandria did the same kind of thing, imposing schedule conflicts that whittled the band down to almost nothing, until the parents got involved. To make room for band in Russ's schedule I had to submit a letter getting him out of "family life" (as explained by big sister,learning to put a condom on a banana) on "ethical grounds" (which were that I believed music was essential). Finally the parents won, but the band STILL has to go door to door to raise money for essentials.

    1. Why is it that parents seem to know that music is important. But parents in inner cities don't always advocate for these programs because of lack of time, lack of knowledge, or lack of interest. Band programs are expensive there's no doubt about that, but it is a wonderful experience that lasts a lifetime for children whether they stay in music or not.