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Keeping music alive in the schools

The Brookings-Harbor High School Concert Choir rehearses for a recent concert.
Posted on the wall of the music room at Brookings-Harbor High School is a tiny sign that reads “Don’t die with the music still in you.”

Despite disruptions in staffing and budgeting, the music programs at BHHS, Azalea Middle School and Kalmiopsis Elementary School are still trying to help students give that inner music a voice.

“Music expresses your feelings,” says Kalmiopsis fifth-grader Nicholas Nishioka. “It can make you happy or make you feel sad.”

From a student leading the band in the stands at football games, to the jazz choir picking up the theme song of the new TV hit “Glee,” an increasing number of Brookings-Harbor students are finding their feelings in music.

A combination of factors has re-shaped the music programs in the district, beginning with state requirements.

In 1991 the Oregon State Board of Education determined that the arts and foreign language are vital elements of a full education and included a requirement for every student to have at least one year of instruction in the arts. In January 2007 the State Board extended that requirement to three years, effective by 2014. Graduates of Oregon schools must have three years of arts education, in fine or performing arts, in a foreign language, or in a vocational program.

Locally, band and choir membership at Azalea Middle School has soared. In spring 2009 the middle school’s band program had 108 members, more than three times that of the high school band.

But with budget balancing still a concern, Brookings-Harbor School District budget committee was forced to make hard choices.

A new “intermediate” band level was created to spread the increasing number of music students into more classes, while the talented jazz band was merged with the high school jazz program.

Band instructor Matt Power, who left Brookings-Harbor last year, told parents he was excited about the future of music in the district as the large group of talented students moved up through the grades.

Power, who taught instrumental classes at the middle and high schools, was instrumental in bringing some special music experiences to the schools, including the visit by the the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps last summer. The bugle corps was an example of where music can take them after they complete school, he said.

However, Power’s vision of the future of Brookings-Harbor instrumental music  abruptly came to a halt when he was offered a job on the East Coast near his parents.

With the departure of Power just weeks before school began in August, the music program underwent major changes.

Previously the district hired a band director and a choir director, both of whom worked with students at both Azalea and BHHS.

In addition, Choir Director Greg Goode taught a basic instrumental class to fifth grade students at Kalmiopsis.

Budget cuts necessitated the elimination of the fifth-grade instrumental program just as this year’s fifth- graders were expecting to play recorders and learn how to read music.

“My sister told me band was great,” fifth-grader Josh Kollman said.

Instead, fifth-graders were given more choir instruction.

“I was really, really upset,” said fifth-grader Amanda Rhodes. “I really wanted to do band.”

Their interest has not completely disappeared. Many say they intend to sign up for band next year at Azalea.

Emmett McCutchenne of Vallejo was hired to replace Power at the middle school, teaching of both band and choirs, while Goode took over the band at the high school.

McCutchenne stepped into the program with a long history of music instruction at the middle school level, but with a program that languished for a month with substitute teachers.

Azalea students learned a new style of practice and play while McCutchenne found himself learning about his new students and the community where they lived.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how much talent there is in this small area,” McCutchenne said.


What is currently offered?

Kalmiopsis Elementary School

Kalmiopsis music teacher Ann Christensen teaches all levels of music at the school, from simple singing lessons for younger students to optional after-school programs.

When the fifth grade band program was cancelled Christensen saw a need to keep her students practicing basic music theory while waiting to enter the middle school program.

“We currently have an after-school recorder classes and this spring I will offer an after-school guitar class,” she said.


Azalea Middle School

Azalea has two choirs and three bands, all under the direction of McCutchenne.

The bands are divided into beginning, intermediate and advanced bands.

Two levels of choir are offered, the concert choir and the honor choir, Sound Wave.


Brookings-Harbor High School

There are three Bruin choirs at the high school, the concert choir, Grace Notes and Sea Breeze.

The concert choir is the largest choir at BHHS, comprised of casual singers, ambitious young students working towards higher level choirs and advanced singers, many of whom are members of the high school’s advanced choirs.

The advanced singers are there to help lead the less experienced singers and to continue to develop their own skills, Goode said.

In its second year, Grace Notes women’s choir singers are selected by audition.

The best known Bruin choir is Sea Breeze. Selected from students willing to put in extra hours practicing and performing, the jazz/honor choir sings at public and private events as well as caroling and traveling to music events across the state.

The Brookings-Harbor schools lack a marching band, primarily due to travel requirements, Goode said.

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