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Opinion misrepresented public school music programs

I am dismayed at the misrepresentation shared by Roy Sutton concerning music in our valley's public schools in March (http://bit.ly/1mCUGfF). While he is in support of music, which is great, his knowledge of the current state of affairs in the Medford School District is inaccurate and potentially damaging to our programs.

Why does a person I have never seen at a public school music concert and who has most likely never talked with a public school music teacher believe he has the authority to portray the state of music in our public schools and how they are lacking?

Here are some facts:

  • We offer beginning band/orchestra at each Medford elementary school, starting in the sixth grade in the form of a before- or after-school program (this has been in place for about 10 years. Before that, students started in the fourth grade for orchestra, sixth grade for band and chorus, within the school day).
  • Medford elementary students receive general music on a weekly basis (we would love to see this increase, but they are exposed to singing, recorder, keyboard and guitar).
  • Our instrumental music programs are flourishing, with increased numbers for most of our programs at both the middle school and high school level.
  • Digital music, guitar, nariachi and beginning instrumental classes have been added within the past year in our Medford high schools.
  • Our ensembles are performing age-appropriate literature comparable to the top groups in Oregon.
  • All three music programs at North Medford High School — choir, band, and orchestra — were just selected for the 2014 State Championships (doesn't sound like the "canary in the coal mine" to me).
  • During music tours, we have placed among top groups from around the nation.
  • The Rogue Valley Symphony has organized a wonderful program to bring specialists into our classrooms to provide students with more specifics on their instruments. I am so grateful for their support of our students.

I believe the reason Siskiyou Strings has such a drop of members participating in the public programs is not because of the absence of programs. Rather, it is because little to nothing is done to encourage Siskiyou members to attend their school music ensembles as well as communicate with them the importance and reward of being leaders and ambassadors for their instruments among their peers.

Of course, in a perfect world, we'd love to see more support for music from our district, especially general music offered two to three times a week and choir/band/orchestra offered for every single sixth-grader during the school day. However, it is important to remember we are able to offer such a variety of music here in Medford as well as the Ashland, Grants Pass and Klamath Falls districts, while so many districts around the state have completely lost programs. I have faith that my district, should the funds become available, will do everything in its power to better support our music programs.

Finally, I am exasperated with people assuming they can speak from the experience of a public school teacher and to know what each of us as individuals is facing in our daily work with students. Anyone who is not in the trenches does not have inside information and therefore cannot make assumptions on what we do and our programs. Yes, the reason that kid is not holding his trumpet in proper position is because he broke his arm last week and it is still mending. Oh, and that violinist? The one that struggles to read notes? Yeah, he's autistic and has trouble reading and writing, but he absolutely loves to play in orchestra. And that drummer over there — he's homeless, did you know? He doesn't have a place to lay his head a night, therefore also not a place to practice or do homework. The only reason he is even in school is so he can play with the band. But because of band, he will graduate.

In my opinion, the public school teachers are heroes. We deal with never-ending and constantly changing scenarios, students, parents, administrators. Our music groups are awesome. What we achieve with what we have is awesome.

For me, it is much more rewarding to work with my public school students and help them succeed than those having private lessons who will succeed no matter where they are because of parental support and finances. Thank goodness my most advanced students have the maturity to see the value and importance of being a leader and role model in my groups. Now, it is time for the adult leaders of the private youth music organizations in our valley to step up, as well, and with actions, not words, support our public school music programs.

Lynn Gervais is a Medford orchestra teacher.