Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The State of Music Education, A Rant

As a preface to my rant, I just want to say that I know this is a long debated subject, not without pain and points valid on both sides.  But I have to vent.  Music education is very important to me and is a topic very near and dear to my heart and something which has largely formed who I am today.  I have to say something about its decline and seeming downfall or I'm going to burst! 

I started cultivating my musical part of my personality from a very young age.  I would dance and sing to any kind of music as far back as I can remember.  (One of my favorite memories is when I was finally old enough to be at home by myself, I would wait until my parents drove down the driveway, then I would turn up Phantom of the Opera and I would sing along.  I would become Christine in my mind and I would act out the whole part, line by line, and sing my little heart out and ham it up and dance when not singing.)  I begged my dad for a long to take music lessons and he finally let me take lessons when I was in 3rd grade I think?  I can’t remember exactly when.  I started with the dulcimer and piano.  Unfortunately due to a lot of different circumstances, my father was unable to keep me in lessons.  But as soon as music was available to me in school I jumped on the chance.  I joined the band in 6th grade, quickly joined choir and every other ensemble and group I could find.  I became THE band nerd in our school(which wasn’t hard given the size of our school), and by the time I graduated High School I played Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Piano, Dulcimer, was back in private vocal lessons and I sang in two choirs including a local community choir.  I was part of the theater at school as well as community theater and improv groups and had attended regional music camps, was accepted into regional honor band two or three years in a row and had gone on trips all over including the UK.   

When I got into college I originally had been ‘undecided’ on my major but after my Freshman year, I did some soul searching and felt like music really was where I belonged.  I ended up a vocal major but I was still involved in the band and I was in several ensembles.  Our chamber choir performed at various festivals, CMEA, and even Carnegie Hall!  I graduated with 3.6 from a Liberal Arts college and made the music department’s Honor’s Recital my senior year.  I can honestly and truly say that music is such a huge part of me, I can’t imagine my life without it.  And the experiences that I’ve had being a musician are things I would never trade for anything!

I had planned on becoming a music teacher but at the time, I was very low on funds and the State of Colorado kept changing its requirements every semester for an Ed degree and I would’ve had to be there for 3-4 more semesters than I already had.  I made the difficult decision to not pursue it anymore.  I have often regretted that decision and am seriously thinking of going back to get my credential.  But, I’ll illuminate more on that later.  

Now, my heart is breaking as I’m watching Music programs being cut around the nation.  This is not news.  For decades when school’s face budget cuts, the arts are usually the first thing to go.  But it’s getting more frequent and I know so many music teachers right now that have been either completely laid off or their hours severely cut so that paying their bills of their salary is pretty much impossible.  More importantly however, children and teenagers are going without music education because of these cuts.  Most families cannot afford to put their children in private lessons and so the only exposure they have, is through school or after school programs and so now so many kids are not exposed to the joys of music at all!

To be fair, I do understand that most of the time the schools have no choice in the matter and music isn’t the only thing to be cut.  Especially when ridiculous programs like No Child Left Behind get written into the picture.  But what gets my blood boiling is the fact that most of the schools that cut music, art and theater have a very active sports program.  I do understand the importance of physical activity especially in todays age where childhood obesity is a problem, however there is so much money that goes into these sports programs that could easily be dispersed among other programs as well.  There are scientific studies that show how music and the arts contribute to overall intelligence, growth and development in discipline and other overlying life skills.  I’m not saying sports don’t contribute some of that as well, but it seems to me like a good chunk of people think sports are so much more important!  It boggles my mind...

When I was in college our 30? person Chamber Choir was invited to come perform in Carnegie Hall.  We hadn’t applied to the program and this was before it was what “everyone was doing.”  We were that good.  But the school wouldn’t help fund our trip.  We had to come up with almost $1500 a person and so many of us were poor students who just did not have the means.  We did a lot of fundraisers and we asked the school to help pay for new dresses and tuxes as the ones we had were 20+ years old and just awful.  But the Dean was able to get us enough money to pay for part of our food and our bus just to the airport but that was it.  We had to pay for our new clothes ourselves in addition to plane tickets and hotel and anything else.   We later found out that the Football team, (who hadn’t won a single game like almost 5 years btw) had received brand new uniforms that fall...and had received brand new shiny uniforms EVERY YEAR for like 15 years!  Not only that but every away game, they got their bus paid for, all their food and hotel at no cost to the student.  What?  We get a once in a lifetime chance to go sing in New York at CARNEGIE HALL of all places and we didn’t get squat...and we didn’t even ask for more than a few new uniforms.  How the &^#% is that fair?!  *sigh* I’m not bitter or anything...  

In High school and middle school, even though the scope wasn’t as broad, we faced the same problem.  The sports teams often got everything paid for all the time, while the music, art and theater departments had to scrounge for a way to have their programs at all and our families still had to pay for our instrument rental, clothes, trips etc.  I am aware that the sports teams had to have some of their own fundraisers as well but overall, they were still favored over any other art program.

I had the opportunity a week ago to go do a presentation at a local elementary school about computers but I had ended up staying briefly for some of the meeting on their music program for the year.  They were lucky they HAD a music teacher and their program sounded pretty cool for the year, especially since they were going to be taking part in an new educational program through San Francisco Opera where the kids get to go in and learn how Operas are written and staged and produced and get to put on their own production.  It sounded awesome and made me wish I had had something like that when I was in elementary school!  HOWEVER, the teacher that were there seemed so apathetic and like she really didn’t care.  I was talking with a friend who knew the teachers and the school and had told me that most of the time the teacher’s idea of doing a music class was showing a video or playing a CD...and that was it!  I thought maybe it was just frustration on their part of not having many resources and the often unappreciation of music and the arts by other teachers, but apparently that isn’t the issue here.  She’s a performer and teaching because she “has” to...not because she “wants” to.  I know that a lot of music teachers are in education because performing really doesn’t pay enough, but if you have THAT kind of attitude about being a teacher, you shouldn’t be there. Period!  They themselves were once music students right?  How can they be so uninterested in passing that same knowledge to prospective new musicians?  It’s no wonder the programs are getting cut if there are other music teachers out there with that same apathetic attitude!  I don’t have my credential but if I did I can guarantee you if I went in to that school and gave them a proposed curriculum and showed my love of music and kids, I would have her job in a heartbeat!

Since that meeting, I’ve been seriously contemplating whether I want to try and get my credential anyway.  I know I would be a good music teacher if there was a place for me.  California is a little different with credentialing.  It's a little easier to obtain and I can go in and teach at private school without a credential anyway as long as I have a degree.  The state also has intern programs now that help me earn a credential faster and often while I’m already working.  I’m going to look into it some more and see if its something I want/think I can do. (Of course my back injury is an issue and something that needs careful consideration.)  If that isn’t an option however, I did also find another volunteer program that helps bring music to schools outside of their regular curriculum in after school programs.  I wouldn’t be getting a paycheck but I think it would be an awesome program and I would love to be a part of it knowing that I am helping expose kids to the joys of music.  I feel a calling that I need to be doing “something” to help with the continuing growing music education crisis.  I want to share my love of music with other growing minds and hearts.  Nothing is quite as satisfying to me as seeing a child react to music in a positive, excited way.

Friday, August 19, 2011

When health issues get in the way

I have been kind of off the radar for quite awhile due to a recent VERY bad flare up of my degenerative disc disease in my lumbar spine.   I have been out of commission for almost two months this time and has made my life pretty much completely come to a halt. Again...

My back issues have been something I have had to deal with for several years now and due to the nature of my injury, it will ALWAYS be a problem of one degree or another.  Even with the best possible outcome, I will still have some pain and immobility probably for the rest of my life.  This of course sadly puts a serious damper on my ability to perform and commit to shows etc.

This spring I was in the chorus for Carmen Fixation at Berkeley West Edge Opera.  I was SO excited to be a part of this show and worked hard to get in.  About a week before we were to open, my back started to misbehave and ended up having to back out of the show.  I was devastated.  I felt like not only was I letting the cast and crew down, I was letting myself down too.  I have wanted SO much to perform regularly and work my way up to bigger roles and shows etc.  And with Carmen, as well as a bunch of other shows and performances that I've had to back out of over the years, I feel like there's no way I can fully be where I want to be musically.  Its depressing and frustrating and I don't know what to do....

I recently had to make the decision to not audition for BACH this season.  With my recent bout, I had no idea if/when I would get better enough to be able to commit to the shows and rehearsals.  This made me very sad as I was really enjoying performing with them and the upcoming years lineup looks like so much fun!  *sigh*  I was accepted into the Chorus for Christmas Revels this year which was a huge thing for me.  I haven't officially backed out of that show yet because I keep hoping that I'll get better enough to continue.  But there is always a chance that I will have to back out later anyway.  There just is no rhyme or reason to when its going to act up and how bad etc.  Its SO frustrating!

I went in for an epidural injection yesterday in hopes that this will help enough for me to get to where I can do more strength training and PT to hopefully keep more discs from herniating.  There is the possibility of surgery down the road if the epidural and further PT don't help, but even then, the success rate is only like 75%.  If the epidural helps then I am hopeful that I can carefully start to get into a fitness routine again and continue to lose weight and hopefully keep my back at a manageable pain tolerance.

I know that there are people with disabilities out there who perform regularly.  Its not like I have to put my music career completely on the back burner, but when I'm in so much pain I can hardly walk, how can I even begin to think of being able to be on stage or at long rehearsals etc.?

I don't know what to do and I feel like I will never have a chance at performing professionally because of my 'disability.'  I don't want to sign on to a show only to have to back out later and be looked at as a flake...but I don't want to give up completely!  Music is my life...but how do I integrate it into my life successfully when I'm so compromised from pain?