Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Musical Manifesto

Here’s what I believe, as a parent of three kids with music in their blood; as someone who played in band from fifth grade through two years of college; as the daughter of a public school teacher and lifelong musician who continues to demonstrate music’s power to bring people closer together; as the granddaughter of a man who was inducted into the Minnesota Music Educators Association’s Hall of Fame; as the great-granddaughter of one of the pioneers of music education in Minnesota:

Music belongs in the public schools, especially at a time when instruction is so focused on testing.  All students should have the chance to pursue a passion for music – whether it’s through band, orchestra, or choir programs – regardless of gender, race and income level.  It makes them better students and better people.  It makes our communities better places to live.  If a school district loses its commitment to educating students in the arts, it loses its soul.

I believe these things, passionately – so passionately, in fact, that I had some trouble last night keeping the emotion out of my voice when I spoke in front of the school board.  I hope it didn’t deter from my message.

I was one of four parents who addressed the Northfield School Board regarding the possible cuts to elementary band and orchestra for next year.  Here's a link to the story on Northfield Patch.

Parents and other interested community members will also have the chance to speak Wednesday (tomorrow) at a public hearing on the budget, which is set for 7 p.m. at the high school auditorium.

I learned before the meeting that Superintendent Chris Richardson was recommending that the district keep both the elementary band and orchestra teacher positions, which had been targeted for elimination by a committee of citizens and staff charged with finding ways to cut the elementary program budget.  Richardson explained his recommendations in a letter posted yesterday on the school district website.

Knowing this, I didn’t feel it was necessary for me to get up in front of the board and explain all the reasons why I think it’s important to retain elementary band and orchestra.  Plus, the other parents who spoke before me made some wonderful points about the success of the strings program in Northfield, about the developmental reasons for starting kids on string instruments in elementary school, and about how cutting orchestra in elementary school would essentially kill the program at the secondary level.
Sebastian before a 5th grade orchestra concert in December 2008.
But I still felt like I had to say something, if no other reason than to go on record of my support for music in the schools.  So I decided to offer a personal story to illustrate music’s power to inspire.  I explained how Sebastian, my seventh-grader, gets up early every Monday morning so he can be at the middle school by 7:10 for jazz band practice.  And how he stays after school on Fridays for an extra 45 minutes, along with about 25 other middle school students, to play in a chamber orchestra organized this year by their teacher, Mrs. Olivier.
Sebastian playing in the 7th grade orchestra at a festival in Woodbury in February 2011.
Sebastian is 12.  He’s not a fan of Monday mornings, and he’s not a fan of hanging out at school at the start of the weekend, but he does not skip rehearsals.  These commitments are not something his dad and I have chosen for him.  It’s something he has chosen because it feeds some need inside him.  He’s just one of many, many kids who feel this way.

These are dark times in public education funding.  The system is so confusing, it’s easy to tune out, to cross one’s fingers and hope for the best.  But if the governor and the legislature can’t arrive at some solutions, if voters can’t look past their own short-term needs and commit to putting their money behind what’s important for us as a state (yes, I’m talking about raising taxes), the budget cuts will return, year after year, to suck the life out of public education until there’s nothing left.

We all need to stay informed.  We need to encourage creative solutions.  We need to reward innovation and big-picture thinking.

Fortunately, there are some inspirational stories out there.  Just last week, reporter Norman Draper wrote a story in the South section of the Star Tribune about The Beatles Project and other efforts to boost music and art programs in the state.

According to the story, the band director in Brooklyn Center has expanded the band program, and has sought grants to ensure that every student, regardless of income, has access to an instrument.  In the Rosemount/Apple Valley/Eagan district, officials worked to boost the numbers of low-income minority students involved in music at one of its elementary schools, resulting in a jump in band members from 23 to 80.

When asked why a school would expand music programs in a tight economic time, the Brooklyn Center band director was quoted as saying, “My personal philosophy is every kid deserves a chance to participate in band.”

My thoughts exactly.


  1. You are so wonderful, Joy! Thank you for raising your voice in defense of music education. I'm passing this on. Thank you!!

  2. Wow - thanks, Kate! You read that quickly - it took me all morning to write it. : )

  3. Really well said, Joy! What I love about band, choir and orchestra is that they teach students to work together, to be part of a group that sounds good only when each person does his or her part (there's no showboating in band), and when they all stay on the beat together. As society gets more and more isolating and individualistic, students need experiences in accommodating others and aligning themselves with others for a shared goal. Thanks for speaking up for music at the school board.

  4. Thanks, Joy, for writing this and for speaking up at the meeting on Monday.

  5. Mary: Thanks! I wholeheartedly agree with what you wrote, about what being in a musical group teaches students, and why that's important in today's society.

    Myrna: You're welcome. :)