Music Teacher Math…

Cory NevilleUncategorized

Some of you may have noticed that music teachers are obsessed with numbers–particularly when speaking about the number of students involved in their music programs.  There’s a slight possibility that music educators who make their living by teaching students to count to relatively small numbers like “four” over and over again may just have a deep psychological need to bring larger numbers into their daily dialogue.  For instance, it might not at all be coincidental that most band directors are eternal fans of composer Gustav Holst (who wrote “Mars” with *five* beats per bar) and Pink Floyd (“Money” uses SEVEN beats per bar…Yes, seven.  Go listen to it right now….) as our secret obsession with numbers becomes electrified at the possibilities in life beyond counting to four…
But far more likely, we’re just really happy people when more students are participating in music than not.
When I was hired at QV in 2010, I was very troubled by the dropout rate between the middle school and high school programs.  As an example, I told our administration, our band parents and our students that we should be able to achieve 100 students in the high school band program in five years.  Such a thing seemed (and maybe still seems) inconceivable–as someone pointed out at the time, the last time Quaker Valley High School had 100 students in the band program was well over 30 years ago.  But two years later, the music teacher math is more promising than ever.  Let’s just taking marching band as an example:
  • This year, 34 out of the 48 members of the marching band are freshmen and sophomores.  In two years (the 2014-15 school year), these 34 students will be our juniors and seniors.
  • Last night at our annual Middle School Band night, 110 7th and 8th grade band members joined the high school marching band on the field at halftime and in the stands (how great was that by the way?).  In the 2014-15 school year, these students will be high school freshmen and sophomores.
So as it stands at this moment, if Quaker Valley were to meet its fullest potential in band recruitment, we’d have 144 students in the high school marching band two years from now–which would be a year within the five years I said it would be possible.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and say that over the next two years, for one reason or another, 50% of the middle school band students will choose not to continue in band in high school.  That’s now 55 students over the next two years instead of the maximum potential of 110.  And to keep our numbers tidy, let’s even go as far to say that over the next two years, 9 students currently in the high school band will quit (this is highly unlikely given our past retention rates, but go with it anyway….).  That STILL gives us a marching band of 80 students two years from now.
This isn’t even to mention concert band or string orchestra!!!  We average about 15-20 extra students in concert band that choose not to be in marching band.  In orchestra, our maximum potential in the next three years is also close to 100 students.
We are in an instant-gratification society these days.  Technology has made everything fast, immediate, easy, effortless.  However, there are some things that cannot be sped up.  There is no app for building a stronger, more inclusive, student-centered music program.  It requires lots of time, lots of patience, extreme resiliency and optimism.  Five years seemed like a long time two years ago, but now it is just three years away and the goal of hitting 100 students in the high school band program is very well within our grasp–you just need to realize it, believe in it and act upon it.
If we can keep slightly better than 50% of the students in middle school band into the high school program, we not only achieve a largely symbolic goal of hitting a magic number of participants, but we achieve the tangible goal of keeping more students involved in music.  Students and parents alike realize that being involved in the high school music program is hardly just about the music: it’s about developing work ethic, productivity, accountability, initiative, flexibility and adaptability, responsibility, leadership, teamwork, compassion and understanding, character, communication, innovation and creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills (among countless other traits).  These things are learned through music participation and prepare students to be more successful outside of high school regardless as to what they choose to do in life. Do I have a way of measuring a student’s productivity or work ethic in a way that can be expressed in a grade?  No.  But that doesn’t mean that these “soft skills” are not the true value in what students get out of music education.  Music education builds better people for a future society and our field has the research to prove it!
Our music program is not a frill.  It’s not just another activity that you have to try to squeeze into your busy schedules.  It is, however a critical component to the well-rounded education of any young person.  Not only can we do better than keeping 50% of the available music students from middle school into high school, but we should and must.  Every child deserves this.  Those of us who are already involved in the program know the good things music does for students–we all bear a major responsibility in making sure others know it as well.
I know you advocate for our music program already whether you are a student or parent, but after last night’s Middle School Band Night, I am compelled to urge you to step up your efforts even more.  These things are within our grasp to achieve–let’s not let it pass us by!
All the best,