May 27, 2010
commented on Make Art Anyway
Jen Graves, thank you for your extensive work on this article and for your commitment to bringing these stories to light. It is great that these issues have been discussed at length and that this article has sparked more community dialogue. In reading the article – it became clear to many that my work in partnering with the public school music programs, as well as the characterization of the programs themselves were not put in an accurate frame.
In addition to working with great programs this year like Seattle Music Partners and Washington Middle H.O.S.T. YMCA (the organization that hosts the afterschool drum line that I direct), my work with the Washington Middle School and Garfield High School music departments has been a great experience for my professional development and service though music education.
The Central District programs that have been getting such great attention in competitions and performances such as the Washington Middle School Music Program (lead by Beth Fortune, Kelly Barr-Klingan and formerly Robert Knatt), the Garfield High School Jazz Program (Clarence Acox) and Garfield High School Drum Line (Tony Sodano) have elevated our music education accomplishments and standards to a new height in Seattle.
I am a product of the Central District Music Factory; created and molded into a serious musician and community member through my experiences drumming for the jazz programs directed by legendary educators Mr. Robert Knatt and Mr. Clarence Acox. If it were not for their hard work, talent and endurance in our community since the 70’s – I would not be who I am today as an artist and I would not be working with youth and families in arts education. For more information on current my work and history as a student at WMS please visit:
All of the teachers and programs mentioned above have made strides in making these programs more accessible to all youth but they cannot win this fight on their own. It is up to all of us in the community (teachers, community organizations, media, voters, activists and parents) to continue to find ways to support the very important work that the public school music teachers and administrators have done and continue to do to make quality arts education accessible to all.
We should also realize that the public school system that our music teachers work within is suffering through the divisive and polarizing effects of regular, honors and APP programs perpetuating the inequities of our nation. Adding these elite and sometimes harmful academic segmenting systems to gentrification, hundreds of years of oppression and the failing justice system - it is no wonder that the music programs often don’t reflect the beauty we hope to see. They are a reflection of the real state of our society. This is even more of a reason for us to find more ways to support the music programs that are fighting in the trenches to change the culture and equity of music education.
Through time and endurance, successful partnerships will continue to help undo the damage of systemic racism that we are all working together to fight against.
It is important that I dissect a quote of mine from the article to put it in a correct context.
“Sixth grade is hard enough. You're trying to stay out of fights, stay out of gangs, stay sane, stay confident, stand your ground—and now you've got to run up against the good ol' boys club even in music classes?”
I was speaking on the state of America’s systemic racism that becomes very real to 6th graders nationally when realizing that because of our construct, many opportunities have not been made available to them (like finances for private lessons or consistent and quality elementary school age music education). It is not a description of the music program at Washington Middle School. I would not be working on building on-going partnerships with any individuals or organizations that promote or operate with systems that perpetuate racism.
A response of needed context to a couple of the article’s author’s statements:
“…he (myself) wants to broaden the overwhelmingly classical band-orchestra-choir curriculum by using more things like hip-hop, rock, and drum line…”
I fully support the study of classical traditions in concert band, orchestra and choir because they are crucial elements of a well-rounded music education; and all different types of kids truly enjoy studying these forms. I will also keep working on providing additional opportunities with contemporary forms that engage healthy learning experiences for students interested in music.
“…He (myself) wants to see younger kids in the neighborhood better prepared to try out for the vaunted ensembles at Garfield (in-depth music education doesn't really exist in the lower grades)…”
It is clear that the reason for the success of high school music programs like Garfield and many others – is due largely to the hard work of teachers and students in the middle school music programs like Washington Middle School. Without that foundation – there would be no trophies flying home to sit in our local high school display cases.
Let us all keep the important work moving forward and let us keep the dialogue consistent, honest and productive. Thank you.
MusicianCorps Fellow – via Arts Corps Seattle
Director – Big World Breaks