Proposal for a Comprehensive Music Program

Following is a proposal submitted by the Albany Music Fund on March 10 to Superintendent Marla Stephenson, Director of Curriculum Peter Parenti and members of the Albany Unified School District School Board. If you have questions or would like to help support this proposal for a comprehensive music program across all grade levels in Albany, please contact us at info@albanymusic.org.

Although Albany is justifiably proud of its music programs, the truth is, younger children in our district lack music instruction. For the past two years, only some children have received music instruction in grades K-3. Albany Music Fund, established to ensure excellence and equity in music education in Albany, is appalled at this development.

As we considered our recommendations for 2014-15, Albany Music Fund started by focusing on the needs of our younger students, who of course are the foundation of the entire program.

Why Is TK-3 Music Important?

Every child is born with musical aptitude that should be developed as early as possible.  The first aim of music education in the younger years is to instill a love of music in every child.

Another critical aim of music education at a young age is to build capacities that closely link to development in other areas (reading, writing, and mathematics). We know that the ages 5-8 are critical for language acquisition, and research has long shown correlations between music learning and school success; in just the past few years, studies using advanced imaging technologies have shown that learning to play music before age 8 stimulates brain development in areas linked to language skills and executive function (Wang 2013), sensory-motor coordination (Penhune and Zatorre, 2013), and auditory processing (Kraus 2012).

In a public school district with a commitment to equity, early music education ensures that all children have access to the developmental benefits of music learning and are prepared for success in the music program, regardless of their family’s ability to afford private lessons or other out-of-school instruction.

Goals of a Comprehensive Elementary Program

Singing is the foundation of children’s early musical development. Children in a developmental TK-3 program also learn the basics of reading and writing music and develop listening skills.  Children learn to play age-appropriate instruments to accompany songs (e.g., tambourines, finger cymbals, rhythm sticks, bongos, clavés, hand drums, eventually progressing to recorders/song flutes). By the end of grade 3, students in a developmental, comprehensive program are prepared for success in any branch of music study (choral, instrumental, or general music).

Following is an example of an appropriate TK-3 developmental learning sequence leading into the existing Grade 4/5 music options in AUSD:

Grade
Melodic Goal
Rhythmic Goal
TK
Sing in-tune
High & low
 Keep a steady beat
Clapping the rhythm
Fast & slow
K
so-mi
la
(do)
Quarter note & eighth notes
Quarter rest
Repeat sign
1
So-mi-la
La
Do
Re
Ledger line
Review quarter & eighth notes, quarter rest
2 meter
half note
Bar lines, measures
2
Form
La (low la)
So (low so)
Half note
4 meter
Sixteenth notes
3
Recorders (mi re do)
Absolute note names (FACE & EGBDF)
Q&A
Do (high do)
Dynamics
Clefs
Fa
Ti
3 meter
Dotted half notes

Recommendations

To reach the proposed level of instruction in the elementary grades, Albany Music Fund recommends the following for 2014-15 as a step toward a comprehensive, sequential music education program.

Classroom Instruction

  • TK/K: Music education once a week, funded externally from AUSD and site specific. Funds would be appropriated based on the number of the students in these programs.
  • Grades 1-3: General music once a week, funded by AUSD.

In addition, Albany Music Fund recommends the following for 2014-15:

  • Grades 4-5: Restore instruction to twice a week for student-selected options for general, choral, or instrumental music, funded by AUSD. (Albany Music Fund recognizes the scheduling challenges presented by this recommendation, but we have also seen the impact of cutting instruction to once per week in Grades 4-5. We strongly feel that twice a week instruction should be the minimum for these grades. We urge AUSD to seriously consider all options, from more structured extended day programming to “pull out” sessions for small groups (i.e. instrument groups or vocal part groups) in order to achieve this goal.
  • Grades 6-8: All groups meet for 250 minutes per week, funded by AUSD.
  • Grades 9-12: Continuation of the program as it exists in 2013-14, funded by AUSD with the exception of Rhythm Bound, which will continue to be funded by AMF.

Instructional Materials

Excellence in our music programs is dependent on access to high-quality sheet music, especially at the upper elementary and secondary levels. Right now we do not have established music libraries to support the curriculum. On top of this deficit, there is a need to stay current with music that is new, engaging to students, and on par with other schools and with music festival expectations. As one teacher pointed out, we would not be taken seriously if we were to attend a statewide competition and perform a 1930s pop tune. In addition, our teachers need access to resources that reflect Common Core expectations.

We propose the following instructional materials and supplies budget for all AUSD-funded music classes:

  • $500/year for Elementary Band  (appx. 120 students)
  • $500/year for Elementary Choir (appx. 105 students)
  • $1000/year for the AMS bands (3 concert bands, 1 jazz band; appx. 200 students)
  • $1000/year for AMS choirs (3 choirs; appx. 150 students)
  • $2000/year for AHS Bands (appx. 160 students)
  • $2000/year for AHS Choirs (appx. 100 students)

The overall proposed materials and instructions budget comes out to approximately $8.38 per student per year. AMF is committed to supplementing the cost of sheet music beyond this amount.

Instruments

The final component of Albany Music Fund’s proposal is a budget for band instruments and replacement.The district must provide the large, expensive instruments such as tubas, baritone saxophones, and percussion instruments that are far too expensive for parents to rent or purchase but are essential for balanced instrumentation, allowing our students to represent the district at music festivals, and offering students a quality music education experience. For example, in 2013-14, Albany Music Fund has spent $15,000 on new instruments—this represents four big-ticket items that are essential to the program as well as a set of choir risers, which were necessary to ensure the safety of the student performers. In addition, AMF has spent $8,000 this year on instrument repair.

Although this year the middle school and the high school have generously supplemented AMF’s efforts to maintain and replace inventory, AMF feels that there should be an AUSD allowance in the budget for inventory. To maintain and grow a healthy, excellent music program that is accessible to all, AMF estimates the cost would be approximately $30,000 per year. We propose to share this cost with AUSD; to that end, Albany Music Fund proposes that AUSD add the following item to the 2014-15 budget:

  • $15, 000 for instrument repair and purchase.

Comparison to Other Districts

AMF conducted a survey of other school districts to determine what is typically funded in regards to music education and who funds it.  Because AUSD’s programs in 6-12 are well established, AMF focused on music education in the primary grades. A summary of findings:

  • Berkeley: 30 minutes per week per student in grade 3 funded by the district. Some schools supplement this with funds from site budgets.
  • Alameda: 60 minutes per week per student K-5, funded by the district. Some schools supplement this with site budgets.
  • Walnut Creek: 45 minutes per week per student K-5, externally funded.
  • Pleasanton: Vocal program in grades k-5, funded by the district
  • Piedmont: 30 minutes per week per student grades K-3, funded by the district.

Community Support for a Comprehensive Music Program

AMF conducted an online survey of AUSD community members, promoted through the e-trees at all school sites. Nearly all respondents (93%) indicated that, in their opinion, AUSD should provide “a districtwide music program for TK-3 students”; 91% rated music in grades TK-3 as a High/Very Important or Very High/Critical priority.

When asked to consider what elements of a TK-3 music program would be most valuable to them, “Regular sessions with a credentialed music teacher” was rated as most valuable.

Some comments from AUSD parents surveyed:

  • “Music was an essential component in helping my daughter with some early learning challenges. When she would sing with her class, those differences melted away. “
  • “There’s less [music] than before at Cornell. Our older son “graduated” three years ago, and had more…I’m really sad to see his brother’s experience four years later be so diminished. Our 8th grader is still enjoying music, and surrounded by music players at AMS with years of experience. Our 4th grader has far fewer prospects of playing music with his peers.”
  • “My son (now in middle school) had a 3rd grade teacher who happens to be a musician and performer. My daughter, who is a few years younger, did not have the same teacher, and also did not have any schoolwide music program, which I find appalling.”
  • “We have done after-school enrichment but that isn’t the same as being part of the curriculum and available to all kids.”
  • “Programs have been available to some children and not to others.”

Final Thoughts

“Fostering critical and analytical listening skills is an important facet of all music education programs. Too often, students may have been exposed to a lifetime of background music and sounds to the point where they find it difficult to focus aurally on auditory stimuli when those stimuli are part of a texture or wash of sound. Teaching them how to focus on elements of a music composition can be a useful way to help them learn to distinguish auditory information and sort it into foreground and background sound for purposes of concentration and optimal learning.”—Glenda Cosenza, “Play me a picture, paint me a song: Integrating Music Learning with Visual Art.”

“The act of improvising music allows students to exercise cognitive and affective decision-making. Improvisation involves creative thinking which is a dynamic mental process that alternates between divergent (imaginative) and convergent (factual) thinking.”—Patricia J. Flowers and Judith W. Murphy. “Talking about Music: Interviews with Older Adults About Their Music Education, Preferences, Activities, and Reflections.”

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