Tuesday, 15 April 2014

An Open Letter from Our President

From our President Christin Reardon MacLellan :

Dear Ms. Bacchus and the Vancouver Board of Education Trustees:
My name is Christin Reardon MacLellan. I am the President of the Coalition for Music Education in BC, the conductor of a youth band in the Greater Vancouver Youth Music Academy, and I am the Education & Community Programs Manager for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
I am writing on behalf of all of my colleagues, and thousands of voices of students, teachers, parents, arts supporters, and concerned citizens who are fiercely opposed to the recommended cuts to the VSB’s Elementary Band and Strings Program. I will not tell you how to balance your budget, for that is not my job. I will, however, tell you why you need to retain the elementary band and strings program. I asked my students why they need their school bands and orchestras. A grade 8 student said “because I’ll never outgrow music. It’s something I can do forever.”
As suggested by a vast body of research, playing in a music ensemble offers children an experience they can’t get elsewhere. In band and orchestra, students learn non-verbal communication, self-expression through an instrument, development of fine motor skills, positive social interactions, and how to participate in the creation of something bigger than oneself. Most importantly, all of this happens SIMULTANEOUSLY. Consider students with special needs- some of whom function best in music, a subject that allows them to express themselves in unique ways. Consider First Nations students, and the unifying power of music education- the way it creates positive bonds between students, and within schools. How could taking instruments out of the hands of thousands of
elementary school students even be considered?
Imagine the first day of elementary band or orchestra class- it’s September, it’s something brand new to students. They can’t wait to open their instrument cases, they are overcome by curiosity. If you’ve ever been in a classroom on this day, you know that the excitement is wonderfully genuine. The earlier students begin music instruction, just like with any subject, the better they are at it. Students learn so much in their first years of playing a band or string instrument, as concepts progress sequentially, and always comprehensively. Now imagine if you choose to eliminate these programs: “Sorry kids, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning to play these instruments. Now give them back.” Who will have to deliver that horrible news?
Fast forward to secondary school band or orchestra class. Students are building upon what they learned in elementary school and developing musical sensitivity. As a conductor, I’ve experienced astonishing communications with students. Not a word had to be spoken. Music was the voice. I want you to imagine looking into the eyes of a young person, giving them a visual cue through the movement of your hands or the expression on your face, and the only way they need to communicate is by looking back into your eyes and creating a sound on their instrument that means something. And that’s what music is. “Music is the movement of sound, to reach the soul, for the education of its virtue” (Plato).
I sympathize with the VSB, and realize that school boards across our province are faced with difficult financial decisions, however your recommendation to eliminate the band and strings program is regressive and shortsighted. The excuse in the budget proposal suggesting music will be taught through general music programs is most alarming, because in addition to losing band and strings, you will also lose 12 music specialist teachers. There is a reason why the BCTF recognizes music specialists: they are the ones with the pedagogical knowledge who bring quality to music programs. Their training cannot be undermined. So what then VSB? How do you plan to effectively implement the BC Music Curriculum in grades 4 through 7? Generalist teachers are not able to teach concepts such as compound meter, minor scales, melodic form, and understanding repertoire based on historical, cultural, and social contexts.
Music is NOT an expendable area of study. The Coalition for Music Education in BC recommends equitable cutbacks across all programs and expenses in the entire district- cutbacks that do not single out music and that do not propose elimination. We also reject the “pay to play” option, as it will immediately restrict access and make playing music at school unaffordable for many Vancouver families. Perhaps consider the approach taken by the Richmond and Delta School districts, who have implemented a mandatory band program. Can the VSB accomplish a mandatory program for band AND strings?
I strongly recommend you find a solution that considers the big picture and the long term benefits for the thousands of students involved in band and strings each year, without placing a petty price tag on your investment in music. Please think of your students and preserve the humanizing parts of their education. Consider the return on your investment into music.
I’ll leave you with this quote, by a university student in response to the question of why we need music in schools: “Through any type of adversity, people naturally turn to music to express themselves. To remove music because of adversity is backwards.”
A Call to Action
The Coalition for Music Education in BC urges parents, community members, and concerned citizens to make their voice heard in support of the elementary band and strings program in the VSB.
EVERY VOICE COUNTS and time is of the essence. The budget goes to vote on April 30.
Please consider the following:
  1. Write to Patti Bacchus, Chair of the Vancouver Board of Education Trustees, urging the board to preserve the current funding for the elementary band and strings program. (Sample letter attached). Email: patti.bacchus@vsb.bc.ca
  2. Attend and/or register to speak at the upcoming Public Consultation Budget Meeting on Tuesday, April 15 (or Wednesday, April 16 if required) by emailingbudget2014_2015@vsb.bc.ca.
  3. Follow the Coalition for Music Education in BC on Facebook and Twitter for updates and action items.www.facebook.com/cmebcTwitter:@cmebc
  4. Share this information with your friends, families, and neighbours and encourage them to make their voices heard in support of school music education of our children.
Who we are
The Coalition for Music Education in British Columbia Society (CMEBC) is a registered non-profit society made up of parents, educators, arts organizations, and supporters from across our communities whose mission is to protect, promote, and advance music education in British Columbia.
For questions or comments, please emailpresident@cmebc.org

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