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May 25, 2010 wms music joined My Stranger Face
May 25, 2010 wms music commented on Make Art Anyway.
While we support Jen Graves’s efforts to publicize the success of the MusicianCorps program (“Make Art Anyway,” May 11, 2010), she has seriously misrepresented the music program at Washington Middle School and, by extension, the current efforts and persistent challenges in arts-education equity in Seattle Public Schools. Had she contacted either one of us —and visited the very classrooms that host the drumline program she describes—she would have been able to present an accurate and full picture of the music opportunities offered at WMS.

The Washington Middle School music program serves nearly half the student body (400 students), including students from all grades, academic programs, and ethnicities. We use not only classical, band, and jazz curricula but also incorporate bluegrass, Mexican Banda, and cutting-edge collaborative compositions with prominent figures such as Wayne Horvitz and Jovino Santos Neto. Our music department has two beginning classes that require no prior music training and are open to all students at WMS, 6th-8th grade. Instruments are provided at no cost ensuring that our programs are accessible to any student who wants to participate.

Claiming that “our band/orchestra doesn’t reflect the population, doesn’t reach enough kids of color” (Anang) is a distortion of the truth. Had Graves stepped into one of our classes, she would see the results of our labor in actively recruiting as many students from our elementary school feeders as possible, of all backgrounds, using massive fundraising efforts to ensure that all students can participate regardless of family finances. We actively recruit so that our program IS representative of our student body because we are committed to equity of access.

True, there is still much room for improvement, but if greater equity is sought in elite ensembles such as the Garfield Jazz Band as mentioned in the article, this is where the work must begin—efforts that will continue because we are committed to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to benefit from a music education.

MusicianCorps teachers are doing this work because they believe that music is vital and should be accessible to all. As public school music directors we believe the same. It is the right of every child to have a comprehensive music education. Unfortunately, Jen Graves’ reporting of only half the story doesn’t promote a collaborative spirit and it is through partnership and acknowledgement of shared commitment that our students will benefit.

We extend an invitation to Ms. Graves so that she can see first hand the work that is happening at WMS on behalf of all students. We look forward to her visit!

Elizabeth Fortune-Gobo
Kelly Barr Clingan
Washington Middle School Music Department