Band teachers in Ill., Md. advocate for arts programs

Teachers in music performance seem to talk about the life lessons their students get from their classes more than teachers in any other subject. And compared with every other teacher, adults tend to remember their school music performance teachers more. We see this in Maryland, Illinois, and many other places.

Our current school climate focuses on basic math and literacy. Schools tend to drill students who perform on tests near the cusp between meeting state standards and not meeting them, and arts programs are sometimes cut in those schools. It’s not as bad as some outspoken advocates would have us believe, but it’s happening.

As the Annapolis Gazette reports, Montgomery County Public Schools, one of the nation’s largest districts, cut 13.6 instrumental music teachers from its elementary schools over the past few years. Superintendent Joshua Starr came onto the scene last year and put five of them back into the budget.

The decrease in the number of music teachers “caused elementary teachers to have to increase their class sizes,” the paper quoted the instrumental music teacher at Sligo Middle School in Silver Spring, Md., Beverly Parks, as saying. That resulted, she added, “in many cases, in fewer instruments being taught and in students not progressing as fast as just a few years ago.”

Unfortunately, the Montgomery County Council balked earlier today at Mr Starr’s funding request, noting he was asking for more than the state’s Maintenance of Effort law requires, the Washington Post reports.

But Ms Parks said she still sees a value in music education: “[The students] learn how important it is to be able to communicate with people and the ability to begin to learn how to make emotion come through music,” the Gazette quoted her as saying.

Elgin Youth Symphony Music Educator of the Year

Jim Stombres, who has directed the bands at St Charles (Ill.) North High School since the school opened in 2000, will receive the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Music Educator of the Year award Sunday. In considering candidates, the organization asked students to write essays, prompting a 2006 graduate of the school to write:

In a climate of budget cuts and skepticism of art education, it was clear that Mr. Stombres knew how to look out for us. I look back on the music program as … perhaps the most formative period of my life. It was hard not to feel like I was taken more seriously as a music student than in the other wings of the school, and I don’t think I was alone in that thought.

Mr Stombres told the Chicago Tribune he has seen the positive effect music education has on the entire lives of his students. “I’ve seen how music makes the lives of the kids better, teaches them discipline, teaches them accountability, a sense of worth, which is really valuable whether they make a career out of it or not,” the paper quoted him as saying.

The only other subject that inspires the almost universal reminiscing, reunion concerts, and retirement celebrations seen in music departments might be math, which plays a fundamentally different role in our lives: we learn math so we can use it at the grocery store, manage our stock portfolio—for those who have one—and so on.

Most often, tuning up music skills in school is more appreciated for what it brings to other areas of our adult lives: working hard, in teams, to accomplish important goals. The music is seen, for most students who don’t pursue music professionally, as a means to other ends. But good teachers can do both.

“[Mr Stombres] is able to refine and solidify their musical skills, and truly make an impact on the future of both the school and the music program,” another former student wrote. “I can remember times when he pushed us to our individual musical limits, making us try just a bit harder than we really wanted to.”

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.