Is the music dying in our schools?

Not if those at the grassroots level have anything to do about it

The Kingman Middle School honor band has collected numerous awards at regional and state competitions.

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The Kingman Middle School honor band has collected numerous awards at regional and state competitions.

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Jordan Geesey, a sixth-grader at Kingman Middle School, plays the clarinet during class.

It was decades ago when Don McLean sang about “the day the music died” in his classic 1971 song, “American Pie,” and the lyrics remain as nostalgic today as they were back then.

Public schools are struggling to keep the marching band on the field.

Despite extensive studies that show the benefits of music education, cutbacks in funding have reduced, and in some cases, eliminated school music programs.

It’s also limiting the number of students who are exposed to music education and leaves many without the means to develop their skills and otherwise pursue their interest in music.

Ask any musician why they play and they’re likely to respond much like Kingman Middle School eighth-grader Savanna Berry, who was selected to the region’s honor band for the second year and is one of the top flute players in the state for her age.

“It makes me happy,” Berry said after band practice Monday. “I really come to school for band because it makes me happy.”

Along with motivating students to attend school, music education improves cognition and attention and raises standardized test scores.

“Music is very important to educating the whole child,” said Roger Jacks, superintendent of Kingman Unified School District.

One of the district’s strategic goals is devoted to what Jacks calls the “Four A’s” in school – academics, arts, athletics and activities.

“We provide budgets for all of them, although we have seen those budgets shrink due to state cuts in school funding the past five years,” the superintendent said. “Nonetheless, we value the Four A’s in our school budget system each year.”

Filling the gap

Julie Gragg, band director at Kingman Middle School, said the school district’s music programs are enduring as well as can be expected through the state’s reduction in education funding.

“We’ve been hit, but it’s not going away,” she said.

Tax credit donations and fundraising efforts such as those by the Kingman Middle School Band Boosters are helping to fill the gap in funding cutbacks to sustain competitive music programs.

The boosters help pay travel expenses when the band participates in regional and state competitions, band camps and auditions. They also replaced five clarinets, five flutes, three trumpets and three saxophones over the last five years, Gragg said.

She gave Jacks credit for prioritizing the arts in KUSD’s annual budget and working to promote equity among local students.

“We need these students to attach to something as they progress through the school system,” the music teacher said. “They need a driving force to be academically in a good place to participate in co-curricular activities.”

The projected arts budget for 2018 is about $380,000, said Heather Burton, director of administration of the school district. The money is used to provide music instruction at all elementary, middle schools and high schools in the district.

“Each school has a small budget for musical instrument repair and travel,” Burton said. “We do count on fundraising activities and tax credit donations to supplement our spending on extracurricular activities.”

Individuals can donate up to $200 (couples $400) until April 18 for tax credit on their 2016 tax year, Burton said.

“As a taxpayer, you can choose where your Arizona tax dollars are going and those dollars are used solely for extracurricular activities that benefit our district’s children,” she said.

Honor musicians

Gragg serves as Kingman Unified School District’s music coordinator, taking band students on recruiting trips to elementary schools and working with various groups such as the Kingman concert band to bring free performances to the community.

Kingman schools have racked up numerous awards at regional and state competitions, she noted. The middle school band will be traveling to Phoenix Saturday for the Arizona Music Educators Association’s Pageant of Bands. It will also perform for the KMS Band Boosters Ice Cream Social April 18 and KMS Pops Concert on May 9.

“It’s something to do,” said Dominic Munoz, a KMS sixth-grader who made the all-state honor band after just two years of playing saxophone. “You get to play with other people.”

Kingman High School, which offers classes for wind ensemble, jazz ensemble, percussion, color guard and guitar, recently competed in the Northern Arizona University Jazz Festival and ABODA Concert Festival in Flagstaff.

Both the wind and jazz ensembles received “excellent” ratings at the festivals, and 11 students were selected for the regional honor festival, said Michael Schreiber, band director at Kingman High.

It’s the sixth straight year that the school’s marching band, jazz ensemble and wind ensemble all qualified for state, he added.

“The kids are amazing and work very hard,” Schreiber said.