Sunday, May 16, 2010

Performance Season

May is student performance month.

For us, it started off with the New York City All City High School Concert (Squidette on clarinet), moved on to the Wagner Middle School production of Annie (Little Squid in an assortment of minor roles) and continued last night with the Manhattan Borough-Wide Salute to Music concert (Little Squid on oboe).

Still to come ... the Stuyvesant High School spring concert (Squidette with a potential Alto solo) and the Wagner Middle School Spring Concert (Little Squid on oboe for both 7th grade bands).

And, inserted with in there may be Little Squid giving a go at a Klezmer jam (on oboe).

Add to that our obligations within our own school communities (awards ceremony for Mike, 2 graduations and a prom for me), we are putting on our roller skates to get to the end of the school year.

But let me pause for a minute to reflect on last night.

Roughly 50 students, primarily from two Manhattan middle schools, came together to put on an awesome performance. They played classical, jazz, marches and Broadway tunes. They made a delightful sound and smiled through every note of it.

The few glimpses I had of Little Squid (tough to see the oboe player as the conductor stands right in front of him) were of a kid who was thoroughly enjoying himself. I smiled so wide that I practically split my lip. I clapped so hard that my hands hurt. And they were good! Not just middle school good, but GOOD! No, they will not be a threat to the New York (or Boston) Pops, but they were good just the same,

I'd like say that these are the best kids in the borough, but frankly, unlike the All City programs, no one gets rejected from the Manhattan program. I can't speak for the other boroughs.

What you do have, however, is the most dedicated public school students. The ones who want to play. Who are willing to get up early on a Saturday morning and play for three hours. The ones who are willing to schlep to East Harlem, or who are schleped by patient and loving parents, when the subways are at their worst -- and the school is a good half mile or more from the nearest station.

I had the pleasure of listening to many of their rehearsals in bits and pieces. (They practice in my school so I often worked in my office while the kids played in the cafeteria.) On the rare occasions when I wandered down during their break, I'd hear kids just tooling around on their instruments in between bites of granola bars and drinks of water. Sometimes they'd be playing the ensemble music, sometimes they'd just be playing with music. It was such a delight to witness!


As school budgets get tighter and tighter, music gets squeezed out. Instruments are expensive to obtain and to maintain. Evening performances, while a source of revenue to schools for their programs, cannot pay for teacher salaries and the overtime required for the concerts.

The Manhattan Borough-Wide program ran all this year with just two instructors. They are supposed to have three but the missing teacher was never replaced. There were a few days this year when the program ran with only one instructor. I offered my services but, with no musical training or talent, I was useless. They didn't need a crowd control person -- the kids controlled themselves.


I wish there was a way to really express all that I saw each week but it boils down to kids doing something they love while being taught by people who love what they teach.

The Borough-wide program has been running for 52 years. 52 years.

Mike and his siblings played in the program. He and I are racking our brains trying to think of professional musicians who came out of the program but, aside from the concert master during Mike's second year, we are clueless.

What it comes down to is that while I do not think the program is in danger of being cut just yet, there are fewer and fewer kids in the Manhattan program each year. Why? Because fewer and fewer elementary and middle schools can afford to teach instrumental music. As far as I can tell, only two middle schools in Manhattan have serious instrumental (band) programs, Wagner and Manhattan East.

Instruments cost money. Lots of money. My kids' elementary school required the parents to rent / lease / buy the instruments and only provided school instruments for kids who qualified for free lunch. Their middle school provides instruments but they are hard used and, by the end of each year, sounding it.

When a school has to decide between books and instruments, books are winning out. Schools shouldn't have to decide. They should be able to provide books AND instruments.

Kids who are exposed to music are just so much more well rounded. Their brains are challenged to work in different ways. Neuropathways are formed and nerve connections made that just would not happen otherwise. They experience the frustration of trying to get a nice sound, and the joy that comes with finally doing it. They learn to play with music, to learn rules ... and break them with impunity. They are given yet one more thing to care about and to appreciate.

So ... if you have a few bucks to spare, donate it to your local elementary, middle or high school music program. Or, if you don't have one, contact me (email button on the right) and I'll provide you with an address or two -- the Salute to Music Program and Little Squid's middle school. I promise you, they will do the right thing with the money.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Very well said, Devorah. And I can picture you wondering out of your office to check out what's going on. For some reason I just have a clear mental picture of it.