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Building Music in our Communities

When considering this topic, it occurred to me that the order of subjects could be switched to read: Building Communities through Music, as I firmly believe (and many studies have shown) that music and arts education play a vital role in students connecting with one-another, and truly learning how to be members of a community.

As the NAfME Social Emotional Learning brochure reads, “Music classes also incorporate community advancing activities which provide students with ‘opportunities to express themselves, interact in novel ways, and work collectively, practicing and developing interpersonal skills such as collaboration, communication, and conflict resolution’”. Studies also show that music is very important to early childhood development. Music and songs activate the brain in infants, and help them learn skills that they’ll need as they begin their formal education. Case in point: how well would we have been able to learn the alphabet without the “A, B, C” song? Even if keeping the original rhythm and cadence, and reciting the letters in a monotone fashion without the melody (go ahead, try it really quick), I think you’ll agree that we’d have taken a lot longer to successfully learn the alphabet if that had been the method used in our childhoods!

Personally, music has had a significant and positive impact on my life. I grew up in the small city of Arvin, CA, and most kids were either in sports, band, or in gangs. Seeing gangs everywhere was the norm; violence and drugs were things I’d see every day. At the time, I didn’t realize or appreciate that music was actually saving my life. Once I got to high school, I remember going to zero-period marching band practice at seven in the morning, after which I would go to my other classes like my other classmates. I couldn’t wait for third period, though, which was my elective, and (you guessed it) it was band! After school on some days, there was practice until seven or eight at night. I remember going to competitions and playing in the stands at football games. Not only was that fun, it was a reward for having put in so much hard work in the countless hours of rehearsal; it was through band that I learned a very important life lesson: “You can only take out of something what you’ve put into it!”

It’s because of the profound impact that fine arts education has on communities, that we should now focus on the original topic of Building Music in our Communities. It’s no secret that educational funding for the arts has been challenged in California in the last 20 years or so, with school districts all-too-often having to make very difficult decisions, which have sometimes negatively affected their music and fine arts programs. I do believe that the tide is starting to turn, however, and the wonderful efforts of the Bakersfield City School District (one of the largest in California), which was included in the NAMM Foundation’s “2020 Best Communities for Music Education”, and their success in bringing quality music education to students of all ages, is proof that school districts are increasingly seeing the value of providing significant funding for music education, and the arts in general. Michael Stone, the BCSD Visual & Performing Arts Coordinator (a former band director himself), has done a fantastic job in expanding the fine arts programs within BCSD, and is also currently the Chair of the NAfME Council of Music Program Leaders.

Here’s even MORE good news! In efforts to combat the learning loss from COVID-19, and to provide safe and healthy environments for schools, there are very large sums of money that have become available to school districts around the country through the Education Stabilization Fund (ESF), some of which can absolutely be provided to music programs. These funds are not only meant to provide personal protective equipment to students and teachers, but can also be used to purchase more instruments to eliminate any need for students to have to share instruments, and things of that nature. Please ask your student’s band, choir, or theater director if they are aware of these ESF funds, and if not, suggest to them that they ask their administration and/or school district about them.

For more information and data on fine arts participation and availability within our national education system, please visit the Arts Education Data Project here, or if you prefer to stick to data from California, click here.

Tony Fuentes

Store Manager-Bakersfield