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The Beat Goes On : Sound of Music Still Heard in Elementary Schools Despite Money, Teacher Shortages

September 01, 1985|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

Music education in most South Bay elementary schools still strikes a strong note and is expected to get stronger, despite severe budget problems and heavier allocations of scarce resources to basic subjects in recent years, according to most school officials.

Indeed, some administrators, like Gail Wickstrom of the Torrance Unified School District, see a renaissance in the instruction of music and other arts.

"We've had some cutbacks because of declining enrollment," she said, "but with the current stress on the importance of a balanced curriculum, I think we'll see a real resurgence in the fine arts."

Concerns about the fate of the music program were raised by the Palos Verdes Peninsula district's decision to drop instrumental music instruction at the elementary level this year as part of a budget-cutting effort.

Music advocates, who decried the move as a further erosion of music education in public schools, promptly launched a campaign to raise the $51,000 that will be needed to restore the grammar school band program.

The group, Friends of School Music, has until Oct. 1 to collect at least $34,000, with the balance due by the end of the school year. The district, which is retaining its regular music and arts appreciation courses, will put up another $30,000 for the instrumental instruction.

Few Cuts in High Schools

High school bands and orchestras generally have escaped budget cuts, but the Peninsula music advocates contend that those groups will die out, too, if student musicians can't get a start at the elementary level.

"Over 90% of our high school instrumental players started at the elementary level," said Brigitte Schuegraf, a leader in the drive to retain the elementary band program.

Educators in other districts acknowledge that the arts have not been a top priority since their heyday in the 1950s and '60s, when there seemed to be enough money to finance virtually any program--even basket-weaving, surfboarding and other so-called frills.

Then, for most South Bay districts, the trauma of declining enrollment set in, followed by Proposition 13, the 1978 property tax-cutting initiative that swept away much of the local revenues available to schools.

"There was a time when music and bands and orchestras were taken for granted as a regular part of public education," recalled Rosemarie Cook Glover, a Los Angeles County music education consultant and a 32-year veteran of public schools.

Now, she said, there are only a handful of districts in the county that have full-time administrators to coordinate music instruction, and not many schools are looking for teachers with credentials in music and other arts.

7 of 10 Have Programs

Still, seven out of 10 South Bay districts with elementary schools have managed to hang on to their instrumental-music programs, along with regular courses in music appreciation.

"Our arts program has not only survived; it has been upgraded," said Hawthorne's Assistant Supt. Kenneth Blake. "We've kept our instrumental and vocal-music teachers, and we're working with the Performing Arts Council of the Los Angeles Music Center to bring some really excellent programs to our schools."

Key factors in keeping the arts flourishing in the Hawthorne District, Blake said, have been strong community support coupled with the fact that the district has escaped most of the financial woes affecting systems with declining enrollment.

Hawthorne's enrollment has held steady at about 5,000 students, he said.

In Hermosa Beach, a band program is still going despite a rather weak interest on the part of parents and students, said Conny Ridgway, principal of the Hermosa View School. Only about 25 out of 200 eligible students expressed an interest this year, she said.

Meanwhile, the district is putting a heavier emphasis on the other arts and Ridgway said she believes interest in the band will stage a comeback.

Students Helped by Music

"I believe very strongly in the program and what it can do for some of the kids," she said. "I've seen some youngsters who just were not doing well in the academic area, but they seemed to bloom overnight when they got into the band."

Manhattan Beach's school board decided last week to expand its band program, and in the Wiseburn district Supt. Arthur Margolese said that when Proposition 13 came along trustees decided to drop shop and homemaking rather than give up the band.

Redondo Beach cut out its band program at the lower grade levels about 10 years ago, but still has a program for its junior high students. Spokeswoman Janice Smith said student interest in instrumental music has been short of overwhelming, but she sees a "growing awareness among parents and volunteer groups about the importance of the visual and performing arts in a well-rounded education."

At Lennox, too, the chance to play band instruments is limited to junior high youngsters. Torrance has eight instrumental and an equal number of vocal music teachers to spread the joy of music in 18 schools.

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