Sunday, December 30, 2007


The holidays have considerably slowed my posting. There are few concerts before the end of 2007. The exception is the Seattle Symphony's annual performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

Allan Kozinn's story about music education has been rattling around in my head since it came out on Christmas Day. A few months back I said one of the ways to improve the standing of classical music was to improve music education in our schools.

My own experience, according to Kozinn, is one of an era long gone. Not 40 years ago, but 20 years ago. By this time, music eduction was ambling toward extinction. I vividly recall my elementary music teacher Ms. Gray. Three times a week, my class would walk to the other side of the school for music class. Music was clumped in the same general wing as the library, art and science rooms.

Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, Liszt, Chopin, and Haydn were all part of the curriculum. We would spend entire classes listening to excerpts of Chopin or Mozart. The particulars of these lessons have faded, but the exposure to the Masters prepared me for my love of classical music today. Unbelievably, the Masters were a part of me through adolescence. This is remarkable when you consider Beethoven was fighting for space in my brain with Nirvana, Public Enemy, U2, Beck, and Radiohead.

Reading music, studying the elements of music, singing, rhythm sticks, and attending live performances of the Quad City Symphony were also part of the curriculum. Even access to free instruments and lessons were part of the program. One of my stinging childhood memories is directly related to playing a musical instrument.

On a fall day, near the start of my second or third grade year in elementary school, the orchestra director made a pitch to my music class. Ms. Gray sat on her piano bench, while the orchestra director, a short, frumpy and blading man (Mr. Chickatele was his name I think) was pitching the orchestra. To play an instrument and in the orchestra, all we had to do was pick our instrument and have our parents sign the form. I picked the cello. The picture is what attracted me. I circled it, took the form home, and presented it my parents.

My parents said no. Their reason? They felt I should focus on art lessons, presenting at art shows, painting, and drawing. My elementary school also had a respectable art education program which had captured my attention for a lot longer than music. Crestfallen, I retreated to my room to draw and read.

It's depressing to think that in twenty years, music and art have vanished from public education. By the time I was in high school, my art teacher was selling candy and soda to pay for canvas, paint, brushes and other needed equipment. Music stopped being a required course. I am grateful for Ms. Gray and the Masters. Because of them, when I rediscovered classical music in college, I was able take to the music immediately. I mourn the artistic awareness of kids today and I believe classical music would be stronger today if music education made were part of public education curriculum. In 2007, the Masters don't have to joust for attention with Hannah Montana. She has it all to herself.

1 comment:

Richard said...

I grew up just outside the city limits, in the Shoreline district. We also had music regularly in elementary school.

When at Shorecrest HS, which was then part of the Metro League, I took part in the Seattle all-City choir, which in turn took part in the big "Seattle night" at the national convention of MENC (Music Educator's National Conference) in 1968 at the Opera House.

All-City choir (the choir also did the Hovaness Magnificat with massed strings), orchestra, band, and a fabulous middle school African Ensemble led by Barbara Reeder (Lundquist) were all a part of an impressive evening.

It was not too many years after that when the "Boeing recession" hit and the Seattle School district had major RIFs (reduction in force). For music, since they had thriving HS programs, they made the decision to virtually eliminate the elementary programs--thus killing the future of music in the Seattle schools. While there are outstanding individual programs today (Garfield & Roosevelt), back "in the day" there were good programs at all the High Schools (i.e., they had a band, a choir, and an orchestra program), with many that were outstanding. Not so now.

Out of this loss of opportunities came the many outstanding children's choirs in the area, but of course that means only children whose parents are motivated and have the income are likely to get this experience.

Music education is still strong in some districts, but not nearly as many as in the past.

Richard Sparks