Music in Our Schools
By Julian Peeples
When Sammie Flanzbaum first got into music as a child, it
was a place where she could be herself and express her feelings without words.
Glenda Bartell was a shy middle school student when she
discovered the love of music and found a home in a band. “Feeling like I was
part of a community is what kept me going,” says Bartell.
Now, both women share the magic of music with students every
day as music educators — Flanzbaum at Pleasant Hill Middle School and Bartell
at Brea Junior High School. Along with dedicated music educators across the
state, they introduce students to music composition, teach them how to play a
variety of instruments, and help them realize what they’re capable of
accomplishing with practice and dedication.
“Music education is a place for kids to have a creative
outlet, a safe place to be comfortable and grow,” says Flanzbaum, a member of
Mt. Diablo Education Association. “And when I see the magic and excitement of
them figuring it out for themselves, it’s a rewarding experience for both of us
— because they did it and I provided them with the tools they needed to do it.”
In celebration of music education and the power it can have
in students’ development and well-being, March is designated by the National
Association for Music Education (NAfME) as Music in Our Schools Month. The
month has been celebrated for more than 30 years to raise awareness of the
importance of music education, advocate for quality music programs in all
public schools, and show the many benefits that school music brings to
According to NAfME, studies show that participation in music
education increases children’s creativity, self-discipline, critical thinking
and self-esteem, and enhances the development of abstract thinking skills.
Music education also provides students with a sense of cultural heritage,
inspiring appreciation of emotions and experience of others. Music educator
Alex Willert says there’s so much more going on in his vocal classes than
learning about the music itself.
“I look at music as a way to teach life lessons. My students
learn leadership skills and how to work together to accomplish things,” says
Willert, choir director at Brea Olinda High School and Brea Junior High, and
member of Brea Olinda Teachers Association (BOTA). “It’s not just learning some
notes and singing some songs. It’s about teaching them to grow as people.
There’s a lot more you can learn from being in a choir than notes and words.”
For 37 years, Jim Hahn has shared the joy of music with
students at Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District. The band director of
a 300-student program at Tuffree Middle School, Hahn says the skills and
knowledge needed to perform in a marching band require students to engage in a
high level of thinking that can benefit them in all their academic endeavors.
From needing to be mindful of posture and head position to marching steps and
keeping time to playing the right notes on instruments, all at the same time,
there’s a lot going on in a marching band.
“It’s a whole lot for students to comprehend, and it gets
them thinking about complex concepts,” says Hahn, a member of Association of
Placentia-Linda Educators. “Music gets them to think a different way.”
Constant need for resources, funding
A fact of life as a music educator is lack of funding and a
constant need for resources. The decades-long practice of school districts
cutting funding for music, arts and other noncore classes means that the
relatively few music educators in public schools are constantly hustling and
stretching paper-thin resources to give their students the opportunities they
Flanzbaum recently took one of her bands to play in front of
a local supermarket, asking passing shoppers to donate to the program and help
buy a new timpani drum. And if prepping for seven different classes every day,
overseeing practices and leading performances weren’t enough on her plate
already, now Flanzbaum is working with parents who are starting a booster group
to save her growing jazz band class, slated to be cut next year for lack of
“The only way it can be a class next year is to raise about
$20,000,” says Flanzbaum, noting that there’s no shortage of needs in her
program. “We have so many instruments in need of repair or replacement, and we
need a new music library.”
Even as a nationally recognized band director, and the
long-serving music director for the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, Hahn still
has to grind and hustle for the funds his program needs. He works extra hard to
keep it above water, making him a constant ambassador for his program, school
and district as much as a music educator.
“Last year, my budget was $1,000 for new instruments,” he
says, noting that 15 years ago, the budget was $8,000. “My school is 51 years
old, and we have instruments that are just as old. We’ve had the same piano for
Ending funding cuts and investing in music education is a
fight that requires partnership with parents and local communities, Bartell
says. She recommends that educators involve parents in their district’s Local
Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) process to let it be known that music is
a priority for the community. Her local is currently working through the LCAP to
try to create a full-time elementary school music teacher position, so students
have earlier exposure to music.
“Using LCAP money to create sustainable music education
positions would be huge,” says Bartell, a BOTA member who has taught music in
Brea Olinda Unified since 2003. “We haven’t had any funding for as long as I’ve
What music educators want you to know
All of these dedicated music educators were quick to mention
that their students learn skills that help them in their core classes — a fact
they don’t always feel their nonmusic teaching colleagues appreciate. Willert
says a big misconception is that music teachers want every student to grow up
to be a professional musician. While he acknowledges that would be fantastic,
the reality is there is so much more than pitch and time to learn as a part of
his choir class.
“It’s more than music. It’s getting students out of their
shell,” Willert says, noting that there are social and emotional benefits to
music education. “We’re teaching them how to handle things in life.”
Creating curriculum is another particularly challenging piece for music teachers. Flanzbaum says she teaches band, orchestra and general music, and not once has she ever had curriculum handed to her. Instead, she pulls plans from the Teachers Pay Teachers website, or looks at national standards and builds her own lessons. Willert says he develops new curriculum every year, complete with selecting new songs to learn for seven major shows with his show choir.
Bartell says it is common for music curriculum to vary from district to district because every educator addresses the standards differently. “Since music is not tested, it’s not given the level of importance from administration.”
Sharing the joy of music is a labor of love, says Flanzbaum,
and even with the frenzied schedule, long hours and seemingly uphill climb at
every turn, she wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“I love this exhausted!” she says. “I know what music means
to my students, and I’m so proud to be able to create this space for them.”
For more information on Music in Our Schools Month and for ideas on how to support school music, visit the National Association for Music Education at nafme.org.