Band wants second director restoredPublished 9:48pm Monday, January 28, 2013
One person is not enough to adequately teach 230 to 250 musicians, Band Director C.J. Brooks told Dowagiac Board of Education Monday night.
Brooks said the high school band has grown by 25 members under his baton, “making our numbers near 100 — an outstanding number for a school of our size. This is not to count 130 middle school band students who will eventually be joining the ranks.”
Though numbers usually decline after the Disney trip, “I am happy to report that to the community and board, last week, after the semester change, not only did we keep 100 percent of the students, we actually gained two more,” said Brooks, who received a standing ovation from a capacity crowd in the middle school cafeteria that included retired Supt. Ron Jones. “The band is consistently growing and receiving first-division ratings at marching and concert festivals and continues to increase in its level of musicianship. I would also like to note that the semester change also happened at the middle school and we continued a 100 percent retention rate.”
Brooks asked the school board to imagine a math classroom containing 30 students and a teacher who announces, “Welcome to the new generation of teaching. You will no longer have to take any more math classes. We are now going to teach you pre-algebra, algebra I and II, geometry, trigonometry and calculus. The teacher says let’s break the class up into six groups and each of you will get one of the pre-listed subjects. I am going to teach them to you all at once.
“If this scenario sounds absurd,” Brooks said, “that’s because it is. However, this is what a band class is expected to do every day. With teaching flutes, oboes, clarinets, bass clarinets, alto, tenor and bari saxophones, French horns, trumpets, trombones, baritones, bassoon, tubas and percussion, I’ve just described the absurd scenario, but in real terms, our band classrooms.
“An average classroom with 30 students and one subject with 55 minutes to teach could possibly receive 1.83 minutes of individual instruction,” Brooks said. “A band class with 90 students could possibly receive six tenths of a minute for individual instruction.”
In the case of DMS, he said, “We had to make a decision, either sixth grade band would have to place in one whole class 60 beginning band students or the seventh and eighth grade would have to be combined. After a lot of research and discussions with fellow band colleagues, I decided to split the sixth grade into two different courses and combine the seventh and eighth grade band.”
Brooks said this allows for a little more individual attention for beginning band, whose members must receive the most attention learning how to play a new instrument.
Unfortunately, Brooks said, that forced him to place seventh and eighth grades together, “which is a disservice to both grades.”
“Eighth-grade band members must be forced to wait while seventh grades are taught necessary techniques, standards and benchmarks and tools they need to be successful musicians, while, on the other hand, the seventh-graders are playing music often too difficult for their skill level, which is at times very discouraging to them. To put this on an academic level, let’s start teaching seventh- and eighth-grade language arts in the same room at the same time.”
Another disservice that happened with the loss of a second director is “some of the key and vital programs that made our program and district stand out above others,” he said. “For instance, we no longer have a pep band” to support “our highly acclaimed basketball program, the middle school jazz band dissolved completely, the middle school now attends only one solo and ensemble festival instead of two and the high school lost its wind ensemble, a top-rated group that, when together, consistently received I (excellent) ratings. What is more concerning is that the administration would allow 80 to 100 students in a room with only one teacher. I know that if I was a parent, I would be a little concerned with the safety and well-being of my student.”
Brooks praised the assistance of Mike Petersen, who “came out of his fourth retirement to help our program, our students and myself. This incredible man has been a band and music director for 44 years and has been a rock and savior to us, because, without his help, this program would have crumbled. It is also an egregious injustice what the school district agreed to pay him … Mike would make more working at McDonald’s. We must face reality that Mike will want to finally retire for the fifth time and enjoy traveling with Phyllis, his kids and grandkids. What will the solution be then? What if there is not another Mike Petersen in our community to fill that position?”
Brooks said statistics show music and arts improve test scores, improve problem-solving skills, promote teamwork and leadership skills and, most importantly, teach students to think outside of the box. We need a second director to help continue to improve our long and strong tradition of excellence in our band program.”
Band President Corinne Kasper, senior trombonist, said, “Without two band directors, you don’t get individual time in middle school, which is where you learn fundamentals of playing music. Without that, we lack in everything else afterward. A great band attracts students and makes them want to come to school. Band is a giant support group.”
Brooks quoted the film “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” where the vice principal, played by William H. Macy, said, “I care about these kids just as much as you do. And, if I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division, to which Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) retorts, “I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.”
“We have a budget work session coming up (at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 6), so your information is timely,” President Michelle Helmuth-Charles said. “The fine arts are a big part of our district. This will be a topic. It won’t be forgotten.”