Monday, January 31, 2011

Please Keep Instrumental Music in our Elementary Schools

Our local Board of Education is meeting today and a large segment of our school community is in an uproar. One of the meeting agenda items is the proposal to remove funding for the 4th and 5th grade instrumental music education program. Plainly stated, they are considering cutting the money for our elementary bands and not offering bands until middle school.

Emails and Facebook postings have been flying over the weekend in protest. There is at least one Facebook event invitation for an actual protest at the Board's meeting. I personally have sent emails to the Board in general and to specific members of the Board.

Aside from the obvious reasons NOT to remove music education from our elementary schools, here's the one that stands out in my mind. If you wait until middle school to introduce instrumental music to students, the percentage of those who take up an instrument would be less than those who would in elementary school. I have no statistical proof for this but I just feel it's right. At the end of 3rd grade, when the instrumental music program is introduced to the students, the kids are enthusiastic, full of wonder and eager to try something they have watched older students do for the past few years. They are not self-conscious. They are not so affected by peer pressure. They are innocent and pure. They want to learn.

Fast forward to middle school. They are older, obviously. They are self-conscious. They are more subjected to peer pressure. They have pubescent attitudes. They are riddled with hormones. They do not want to be seen carrying a band instrument for the first time as it might draw attention to them.

This may be a bit of an overdramatization of the middle schoolers mind, but I do think the odds of a 6th, 7th or 8th grader agreeing to try the trumpet for the first time is remote. Give a 4th grader the option and the odds are higher for an affirmative. Removing instrumental music from the elementary schools will have a negative impact on the middle and high school programs. But maybe that's the plan.

You could argue that parents who really want their kids in an instrumental program earlier than middle school could seek private lessons. Many already do that when it comes to piano or possibly violin. But I do not know one person who gets private lessons for percussion, clarinet, flute, trombone or any other band instrument. It just doesn't happen. Public schools are the place where most kids are exposed to this type of instrumental music and it needs to stay that way.

I could go on and on about this. I was in the band from the 4th grade all through high school. I am proud of it and have countless memories from all those years. I could play "Night Train" and "Horse" right now if I still had a clarinet. 

The instrumental music program here in Frederick County is a good one. To convey my conviction that instrumental music should remain in our elementary schools, please enjoy the following repost of

A Little Night Music, TJ Style.

The 2nd Annual Governor Thomas Johnson Feeder Pattern Concert was held last night. This concert is a showcase event of the band, orchestra and choral programs from all the elementary and middle schools that feed into Thomas Johnson High. The purpose of the event is to highlight the musical talent that overflows in our schools, to promote music and arts education and to generate parental and community support for that education.

Over 500 music students from five elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school performed. There were stirring choral performances from the both combined elementary and combined middle school choruses.

The combined elementary band played a rousing rendition of "Louie Louie".

As the stage was changed from elementary students to the middle schoolers, the TJ drum line performed in the theatre aisles, receiving a rock star-like response. 

Both the middle school band...

 ...and high school band and orchestra played beautiful and challenging selections.

Even the TJ colorguard was there, in the aisles, spinning their flags and rifles and getting huge applause from the crowd. And if all this wasn't enough, the high school chorus gave us a taste of hometown "Glee" with Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'".

All of these groups performed individually with stage changes in between. The organization of these stage changes was seamless. The kids moved on and off stage quickly and orderly. Everyone seemed to know exactly where they needed to be at all times.

I must point out that these kids only had ONE rehearsal to prepare for this night. Of course, each individual school group rehearsed at their own schools for much of the fall semester preparing for their own school concert. But there was only one rehearsal with all 500+ students to organize the logisitics of this performance. I am amazed by the organization and commitment of all the choral and band directors involved and specifically the lead organizer, Christy Caulfield. Ms. Caulfield is the TJ High band director and apparently the brains behind this large event. She does a fantastic job with help from lots of supportive teachers, administrators and parents. And of course, highly talented music students.

The evening's finale was the most impressive part of all. All 500+ students were on stage performing together. The band played while the chorus sang "America the Beautiful". The musical bridge was overlayed with a rhythmic recitation of the "Pledge of Allegiance" by all the students. I did hear several audience members joining in to sing and pledge. An unspoken purpose of the evening was to make all hearts in the audience swell and burst. I think all of the evening's purposes were reached. Who can keep their emotions in check to sound of 500+ children's voices singing the praises of our great country?

Please click on the above picture to get a better view. It is an amazing sight.

Music is a beautiful thing.


  1. I could go on and on about all these school boards talking about taking away music and arts programs. I NEEDED them when I was in school, or I would have drowned in math class. I started the violin in the 3rd grade and loved it. And I'll give testimony at your little board meeting that I would NOT have picked it up willingly for the first time in middle school and would have missed out on so much. It is a tad bit embarassing and ever so awkward to bring a huge instrument case with you on the bus in middle school. But by that point, my love for music and for my instrument, which was planted in me in the 3rd grade,was solid.

    Please excuse my rant.

  2. The Horse: every time I hear the band playing it I'm reminded of what a boring song that is to play!
    The band was a big part of who I am today. And you have a good point in your argument for not waiting until middle school.

  3. I am looking forward to hearing you play Horse on a moonshine jug next time we get together in the mountains.


Whaddaya think about that?