Friday, April 15, 2011

Initiative # 6 Small Learning Community:: The Instrumental Music Initiative

"It is keep your cultural foundation intact as you rebuild." James Elmore Morrow. Dwight Whitney Morrow's father.

It seems like only last year when the Drama and Dance Programs in  the middle schools in Teaneck, NJ were being dropped. I was teaching those subjects at TJ at the time. A group of students came to me with a problem. They, yes they had heard that one of the principals had suggested  that those programs were expendable. Susan L., Greg S., Jessica R., you know who you are. I will never forget what you did. That one grand event changed how I will view the power of teenagers forever. Three students spear headed a campaign that collected over 1,500 signatures asking the Board to leave their programs intact. That was one of the most emotional moments of my life. They taped together hundreds of sheets of loose leaf filler notebook paper and rolled it up. When they were finally allowed to speak, they rolled the long wad of paper down the right aisle of the auditorium, up the stage steps, across the board 's long table and down the steps up the left aisle to the other auditorium entrance. All because a teacher they respected suggested that they, their parents, neighbors, business owners and other taxpayers were the only ones who could save the program. They had to vote yes on the Budget. One young lady testified that dance was the only reason that she got up every morning and came to school. Right, Susan L. The programs were not cut that year. In this time of economic crisis and budget cuts Dance and Drama are still offered as electives in both Middle Schools along with Instrumental Music and Visual Art.
Dr. Carlisle's Iniative #6 Small Learning Community. I was reminded of those events when Gary Hollander presented his proposal for the Instrumental Music Program at Dwight Morrow High School. He was alone. I wanted to go up and stand beside him, because I know full well what he is going through. He is reinventing the wheel as he tries to rebuild a once respected program. One man does not a music program make. As quiet as it is kept fine and performing artists spends years perfecting the craft. A Small Learning Instrumental Music Program in the high school must have a feeder program from the lower grades. Dr. Hollander needs support from the Community and the Board.  Changing the colors may not have been such great strategy, but we can get pass that. Surely the District can afford maroon pants for everyone. The band always looked real fine to me. (2 or even 3 colors interchangeable for the garment  below the waist is a compromise. Right?) Has everyone forgotten Mr. Ashley, Wallie Richardson and a score of other fine musicians that instructed the young musicians of Englewood?  The classroom at right is slated to be sound proofed and made into the band room. That decision should be brainstormed a bit more carefully. We must not allow vocal music to be lost in the mix. The Janis E. Dismus vocal class was superbly represented and it included some great voices.  Vocal Music also needs a larger more content specific room. Is anyone doing the outreach and research into what is required in chorus and band rooms? Should these rooms be located in a central location? Poor middle school, where is your auditorium?
What ever happened to Mr. Ashley's sound proof classroom? The band needs the benefit of being able to practice on stage.  If memory serves, Mr. Ashley's classroom was down the steps below Dizzy Gillespie Auditorium. The value of the Fine & Performing Arts must not be underrated. Sometimes these core areas are the saving grace for borderline students who find nothing else attractive about school.
While driving forward in our zeal to create professional "looking" people we must remember that some subject areas require less formal attire. The Art teacher appeared very uncomfortable and quite frankly needed a smock. In her eagerness to gain approval, she dressed in attire that she was afraid to get dirty. It was obvious. This actually made the day's activity a bit awkward to observers.

"Every art is social. It is the result of a relation between the artist and his time." James Truslow Adams


  1. I wonder how many band leaders would change the school colors. I have worked with a few in my years as a Performing Arts Teacher. I am reaching out to them to see what they think of the situation.

  2. Small Learning Communities have not existed in the Englewood Public School District since approximately 2010.