What can a man learn from middle and high school concerts, and is it possible that an educator can have such an impact on parents as much as he has the children he teaches? By attending the concerts of both of my children in the past week has taught me so much, but does the necessity of education in "musical arts" have a real place in our schools?
As I sat tonight in the Galena Middle School Winter Concert (God forbid one calls it a "Christmas" concert), I watched as 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade students entertained the throngs of parents, siblings and other assorted stragglers with a plethora of music. I sat in on my cozy top row, against the wall bleacher seat and thought to myself how I missed the folding chairs from my daughters concert as there was an attempt at cushioning. Having sat on those very same bleachers for a couple of years for a blinding amount of school related functions, my mind wandered back to those days.
The reminiscing came to an abrupt halt as the first sounds of the band pierced my ears and immediately drew my attention. As the various grades practiced I noticed an obvious difference between each grade however, but much to my surprise each band seemed remarkably close in talent. Many a parent has sat through screech-fest's that disguised itself as an ordinary concert and the thought of giving up a night of quality TV, sporting events or picking their nose for that matter seemed like it was a much better plan. The thought of having to pop aspirin before, during and after the sound of tortured screaming weasels that pretended to be actual music wasn't helping in the decision of attending.
As parents we are expected to attend, smiling ear from ear as little Billy blasts sounds from his screeching clarinet missing each and every note. Parents can disseminate the difference between little Billy and the three others missing, no butchering the same notes. A wandering eye notices a disheveled, frumpy looking man or woman that smells of Jack Daniels and Marlboro's and realizes that this is the music teacher and then it all becomes obvious as to the reason for little Billy and his instrument of death that explains everything about his play. In all fairness that description of the music teacher wasn't indicative of a teacher because teachers are paid so little that they can only afford Thunderbird and cigarette butts they find in assorted ditches and bathrooms.
When I was the age of my children out music programs weren't good, they really weren't BUT the teachers were very good and they did try their best to provide their students with the best effort the teachers could muster. I remember being a kid in middle school and dreading going to music class, I hated singing and I hated the pieces of music our teacher provided. As any kid that had to take a required class that they didn't like I completely forgot everything I was taught seconds after answering the question on the test. I did dread music classes but I can still remember two things from middle school, the song "Detour" and "Pore Jud is Dead" (Poor Jed is dead, a candle lights his head) from the musical "Oklahoma" (and that's thirty, no THIRTY years ago).
My interest in music well at least music class waned quickly upon graduation from 8th grade and other pursuits took over but despite all of that those memories remain. My music teacher was extremely competent but she just didn't have the magnet a teacher seems to draw "fringe" musicians to music or band. My children are different, each of them made the decision to join band (both joined in 5th grade) and despite my well hidden fear that they would encounter similar issues that I did.
Since the school district my children attend is relatively small one teacher has the responsibility of teaching band for the middle and high schools. I first met this man when my daughter decided to join and play clarinet. I was concerned that she was being "pigeon holed" as a clarinet player because the band needed more clarinet players but that idea was quickly quashed. In the five years I have been attending the assorted concerts that she and now my son have been involved in, the quality of education and level of increasing skill is second to none. As an example my son was practicing Sunday night for the concert I attended tonight and he went to his sister and asked her about a part of the music and what he was supposed to do. My daughter looked at it, explained it, hummed it with him and off he went to continue practicing, I couldn't have done that at that age if I tried.
What is fascinating is how this man has taken a music program and made it something it never was. Each and every year I have attended any program that the band has performed in, it is obvious how quickly it was growing. At halftime of the varsity football games the band plays and the obvious yearly growth is mind-numbing. In a similar light the skill of the band(s) can only be described as spectacular. Each year the bands progressively improve and despite you thinking "Duh. Improvement comes with experience", you don't understand. It seems that the 5th grade class of this year is better than the 5th grade class from last year and so on.
By providing education of this quality it is important to understand that with that quality comes expense. As the tenure of a teacher increases as does their pay, and rightly so but with the exceedingly difficult budgets that every public school seems to have, classes like music and band get cut. Despite the necessity of budget cuts, other cuts must be found and without trying to sound political those cuts may be best found in large administrative salary cuts instead of band, music or physical education. This school district would be in terrible error if they decided to attempt such cuts because a teacher that can reach so many students from 5th grade to the day they graduate high school must be kept. Please understand that our school district isn't looking at reducing or removing any of these programs or teachers, my explanation of such cuts are a nationwide thing NOT a Galena thing!
My community is lucky, we have an excellent teacher that handles these programs and does it by combining education, fun and all of those other intangibles a successful program must have. I have been nothing but impressed by the education the music and band programs provide to this school district and the individual students that partake in it. I admire the music teachers (four total in Galena I think) and the skill in which they do their jobs because that skill is reflected in each of their students.
Sitting on those hard bleachers tonight I began to understand how blessed the children in our school district are by having these teachers. I listened to each band (the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th, Jazz Band and choirs) and marveled at how good they sounded and although the Winter Concert for the high school students was last week I so impressed by the district music programs. I get excited when I think about the progression of the students and the program as a whole because the things they can learn will remain with them throughout their entire lives.
Sure those hard bleachers were harder than the kind of comfortable cushioned seats and despite the 1700 degrees tonight and the icebox I sat in last week, I learned an important lesson myself. I learned that a quality education is always a good thing but it is exponentially better if the education is reinforced with a band program like this one. Ladies and gentlemen I implore you to make sure that your schools have a program this good. I have seen the growth of the program, I have heard the results and I see how the education of the students can only benefit our school district. Keep up the great work!