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Local view: Don’t let music disappear from schools

I am so pleased to see cuts and other issues related to the music programs in the Duluth public schools finally being aired (“Strained schools sing the blues,” May 17).

As president of the Denfeld Music Boosters for two years and as the parent of four in the district, including a 2013 graduate now studying vocal music at the University of Minnesota, I have a great interest in the outcome of this discussion. This problem has been materializing for several years. I have met with School Board members, music teachers and administrators. I took a group of Denfeld students to the School Board last year to voice our concerns. The students spoke eloquently about the impact music had on their lives, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Our family came to the district eight years ago. We enrolled our children at the Lowell Music Magnet school and were overwhelmed by the fabulous Christmas concert that year: a 300-voice choir, 75 strings, numerous Orff instruments, drumming and piano. All students were involved, and many in the audience had tears streaming down their faces by the end of the show. It was phenomenal!

Fast forward to this year. My youngest is at Lowell and has general music once every four to five days. We had to pay extra to take piano lessons after school. And we had to go outside the school (and pay even more) for private violin lessons. It seems music quickly is becoming an activity only for highly motivated families who understand the importance of a music education and have the financial means to seek it out.

The cuts to music at the elementary level of the Duluth district have been drastic. They have pushed the learning of an instrument or in-depth choral instruction to the middle schools.

Unfortunately, cuts quickly followed to the middle schools, where one period in the school day was dropped, causing students to have to choose between foreign language and music. Those who chose music were handed an instrument but given no instruction, again creating a need to seek private lessons outside of school, something many cannot afford.

The results have been staggering. The numbers enrolling in middle school music are a fraction of what they had been, and the ripple effect at Denfeld already has led to the loss of our chamber orchestra and the combining of freshman and concert orchestras. Band numbers are down, and the skill level of those coming up will result in difficulty maintaining a jazz band.

The numbers enrolling in choir are substantially lower than in the past, and the skill level coming in to high school is forcing teachers to work on fundamentals instead of more challenging pieces. Teachers are forced to rely more and more on our music-booster club for fundraising and hands-on help just to do the basics.

We cannot withstand these cuts any longer. If music is to survive at the high-school level in Duluth, changes must be made now at the middle school level, if not earlier. We must insist on reinstating the seven-period day for grades 6 through 9. We must reinstate music-teaching hours to allow for private lessons. And we must insist that the eastern and western ends of Duluth offer equal programming. Music cannot be allowed to be only for people who can afford it.

The importance of music education on student outcomes is well-documented. Kids involved in music are more engaged in school and have higher test scores; and they learn discipline, teamwork, leadership and accountability. Isn’t that what we want for all our students?

When Central High School closed, my family considered “opting” to go to East High School. We live on the boundary line, and east-end schools are physically closer to our home than west-end schools. We were denied our transfer request and did not appeal the decision because we were assured the programming offered at both schools would be equal. To date, East continues to have a chamber orchestra, German 5, Spanish 5,

advanced-placement history and more than one section of many upper-level classes, reducing the chance of scheduling conflicts. Denfeld does not (Our View: “School imbalance needs to be fixed,” May 18).

Cuts translate into significant costs to our students: Upper-level classes buoy a student’s resume for college and scholarship applications.

I urge you to contact your School Board representative and voice your concerns. Insist on equity. Insist on music education!

Jane Rudd of Duluth has been president of the Denfeld Music Boosters for two years.