Educators, students trumpet music’s value
By BRAD RHEN
Lebanon Daily News, March 2008
“Smoke on the Water” resonates through the hallways of Elco Middle School on this afternoon as Zach Adams describes how he became involved in music.
The eighth-grader started playing drums in sixth grade. But, he says, he didn’t particularly like the instrument and soon decided he wanted to be a part of the school band.
While a version of British band Deep Purple’s 1972 tune continues to reverberate through the halls, Adams describes his musical change of heart.
“I heard the high-school band play, and it was fun to hear them play, and I thought it would be fun to be a part of that,” says Adams, who plays tuba in the middle school’s band.
Now, his bandmates switch to “Rock and Roll Part Two” by Gary Glitter. Adams says his favorite thing about the band is practicing and playing with the other students — even if it means staying after school.
“This is one of my favorite parts of school,” he says. “We have a good bunch of people. We’re all
really good on our instruments, and when it comes time to play, we all play really good.”
In spite of increased pressure to focus on standardized tests and a plethora of other activities available to students today, music education — and band in particular — remains a constant at Elco and schools around Lebanon County. And while participation may not be what it used to be, instructors and students all agree music remains an integral part of education.
In a rhythm
March is known nationally as Music In Our Schools Month. Started as a single statewide celebration in 1973, Music In Our Schools Month has grown to encompass a day, then a week, then, in 1985, a monthlong celebration of school music, according to the National Association for Music Education Web site, http://www.menc.org. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children and to remind citizens that school is where all children should have access to music.
Music In Our Schools Month is also an opportunity for music teachers to bring their programs to the attention of their schools and communities and to display the benefits school music brings to students of all ages, the Web site states.
“It brings (music) to everybody’s attention a little bit more,” says Sherie Strohman, the elementary instrumental music teacher at Annville Elementary School. “With all the push right now for reading, math, writing and all of that, sometimes they forget that these things are here, too, and they’re very important to a lot of these kids.”
Annville Elementary School used to have an assembly to recognize the monthlong celebration, but Strohman says it hasn’t had anything in recent years because there are so many other things going on.
“The high school has their musical around that time, and we take the kids up to the high school to see the musical,” she explains. “We make them aware of it in the music classes, … but I don’t really have any free time in my schedule to do anything else.”
Not much is planned to mark the month at Pine Street and Forge Road elementary schools in Palmyra either, according to Dan Hoover, instrumental music teacher at the two schools. But Hoover sees its purpose.
“I think anything we can do to raise awareness is good because music and the arts in general is something that is looked at to be expendable sometimes,” he says.
No music left behind
Although not much might be done to celebrate Music In Our Schools Month, Strohman, Hoover and others call music an integral part of education. But recently, increased attention to standardized tests because of the No Child Left Behind Act has shifted the focus to certain parts of students’ education.
“I think one of the things that we miss with the testing is we’re just giving one little facet of their being a chance,” Strohman says. “We need the sports, we need the arts, we need all of these things because everybody’s not going to be going to college. Everybody’s not going to be doing the same things. So this gives them a chance to develop many, many more areas of their abilities, and I think we’re really missing the boat if we don’t catch all that.”
Jared Daubert, band director at Lebanon High School, also sees standardized tests’ negative effect on music education. For example, there’s an extra English class at Lebanon that students can take if they’re less proficient in reading and writing. Not so for music.
“I’ve had a few kids not be able to take band because of that,” Daubert says. “You look at some schools, and you hear horror stories. That hasn’t happened at our school, but I know at other schools it’s really devastating some programs right now. You’ll see kids taking an extra hour of reading or an extra hour of math to try to get to that proficient level, and anything else that’s not reading and math tends to be cut for the extra time. I think it can be extremely unfair for the development of kids.”
Being in a band is not just about music, Daubert adds. It offers benefits such as increased social skills, stronger teamwork and developed work ethic.
“The most important thing is, there is no other subject in this school besides music that allows kids on a daily basis to come in and do something that is self-expressive and that allows them to do something on a level that is above that of a normal high-school student,” he says.
A teamwork crescendo
One of Daubert’s charges, Sarah Herb, has been involved in band since third grade. Now a senior, Herb says being in band helps improve social skills. That’s part of the reason she came back each year.
“You can come here and have fun in class,” she says. “I don’t see why you would want to go to any hard classes during the day when you can come here and be just as productive but be creative and be having fun.”
Herb, who plans to major in music education at Lebanon Valley College next year, says she considers herself part of a team in the band — just like an athlete would.
“Especially with marching band — we do competitions, and we compete,” says Herb, who plays clarinet. “We work together just like a sports team to do the best at a competition and win. It’s pretty much the same thing.”
Craig DeVore, band director at Elco Middle School, says music gives students another activity outside of athletics.
“Not every kid wants to do athletics or can do athletics,” he says. “It’s definitely an outlet for creativity, and it allows kids to be creative and to create something and to have that sense of accomplishment because they are creating something and they’re making music.”
Standardized tests are causing problems in music programs, DeVore agrees, and some teachers are more reluctant to allow students to leave classes to attend music lessons.
“We have a great faculty here, and if the kids can’t make it for their regularly scheduled lesson, we make other times available for them to make it up,” he says. “But if the teachers are doing something that’s really important or really geared toward the test, they’re reluctant to let them out.”
For some students, band is the only reason they come to school. Daubert credits band with helping him to get through both middle school and high school.
“If I didn’t have the desire to be here every day for the band, I don’t know how successful I would have been in anything else,” he says. “There are a lot of kids that this is the reason why they really want to come to school.”