At this point, the current Vancouver School Board budget has gone through three revisions and 4 public meetings and as of today the entire elementary itinerant band and strings is slated for elimination which would affect close to 2,000 kids. This is the fifth time that this has occurred in the last seven budgets and quite frankly – we are fed up.
I could tell you about the research which points to cognitive and development benefits that students receive from music lessons. However, countless research articles have been written to this effect. I could tell you about how children’s eyes light up when they hear a professional musician play live and realize how far they can truly take their own musical instrument one day. Nonetheless, such accounts are easily found on feel good sites like …YouTube.
Music lessons are a means of survival for many students. In my work as artistic director of Müzewest Concerts, I get to witness the delight of young people who attend their first formal concert. Clearly, the magic of music is in full force here. However, I also get to witness how music lessons impact children as a public school teacher. I’m going into my eighth year of teaching and have taught everything from Grade 3 to Grade 10.
I would like to draw on my experience as a public school teacher in order to point out why the decision to cut itinerant band and strings would be disastrous. As a teacher, I see the importance of children connecting with their peers. Many students bond over shared interests such as sports, games, hobbies, or books. At the school where I teach, you’ll never lack for friends if you love soccer. (It’s a beautiful game after all.) As the students get older, the social circle becomes an increasingly important network of emotional support.
I’m here to write about how music lessons can forge the relationships that can lead to that inner circle of supportive, lifelong friends. When I was in high school, I secretly loved classical music. (I make no secret about it now. I’m fully an orchestra and piano geek – with zero apologies.) I did not have time for band in my timetable so my musical activities were limited to piano lessons once a week. I was pretty serious about piano but at school I pretended that sports were my main interest. This was my attempt at “fitting in” or being accepted. As an adolescent, I deeply needed to belong to something…anything.
Luckily, I do enjoy being active and doing sports. However, what about those children who aren’t so into organized sports? What if music is where they fit best? What if, due to HEINOUS UNDERFUNDING, that space where they fit best is taken away from them? Some of the students can afford to go take private lessons and if they’re lucky, they’ll be able to meet other students in their studio. However, where does that leave them at school?
Well, it leaves them without a band or choir class. That’s where it leaves them! Students form strong bonds in musical ensemble classes. The social worlds of elementary and high school can be very harsh for some children and it is in the realm of performing arts where they flourish emotionally, cognitively, and socially. Putting it another way, are you really a “band geek” if there are sixty other people on stage with you? Feelings of isolation and depression in teenagers can be combatted by being involved in the fine arts because of the effects that playing music has on the brain and the body. (Again, countless research has been done on the topic of neuropsychology and music.) Nonetheless, I argue that the strongest benefit of a band or strings program in Vancouver schools is the connections that are made with their peers. Vancouver is becoming an increasingly lonely city where people have difficulty making social connections. It is simply unthinkable that the VSB would even consider removing the one SAFE PLACE that kids might have at school – music class.