Mystery score

Mystery score

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A Real Difference for School Music?

If you're on KDFC's mailing list, or if you listen to the station, you know that during this past week, KDFC made a big deal of the fact that the station was giving away $20,000 for school music programs. Or, rather, it was giving away 20 $1,000 grants. This was under the rubric of "Save School Music Week." Their claim, emailed to me, was these grants would make "a huge difference" to the schools or programs receiving the grants.

I'd like you to think about what $1,000 might mean to a particular program, and then think about what "a huge difference" would really be.

$1,000 is enough to buy a few student-grade instruments; it's enough to buy quite a lot of sheet music if it's assumed that each piece costs, say, $3.50. Let's say a rehearsal pianist charges $50 per hour - we have 20 hours for an accompanist. Maybe a school gets a rate of $25 per hour, so that's 40 hours. $1,000 won't pay much toward getting music teachers into the schools, or providing instruments like double basses or timpani or tubas that a school orchestra needs. It won't buy a good piano, though it would rent an upright for some time.

What would a good music program really cost for a school? To me, that means every student in a school would get from two to five hours per week of musical instruction. That could include singing in a chorus or playing in a band or orchestra. It would mean offering basic music theory, and instrumental music lessons. (I took free clarinet lessons in the fifth grade; that didn't take. In the ninth grade I started on the flute; that took!)

We're talking about having two or three full-time teachers on staff. Let's say that costs $40,000/year per teacher in salary and benefits. Then there has to be some infrastructure - dedicated rehearsal rooms, for example. Music has to be purchased or rented.

It's nice that KDFC has $20,000 to give away. Even as a single block grant, it wouldn't go that far to "save school music." I'm not saying the recipient programs shouldn't be grateful; every penny counts. But what I'd like is for everyone in California to think about the real reason for the death of music and art programs in the public schools of this state: Proposition 13.

Since 1978, California has gone from being first or second among the states in public-school spending on a per-student basis to being somewhere between 47th and 50th. We're down there with Alabama and Mississippi in school spending. The California public schools have gone from being the pride of the state to a source of shame.

We got ourselves into this; if we had the political will, we could get ourselves out. The fact is, Californians would rather have money in their pockets today than have an educated citizenry tomorrow. And we've got the crumbling school system, and the death of music and arts programs, to show for that.

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