Nancy Shankman: What we can do (4 min)
Parents are very powerful. I think that music teachers need to rally the support of the parents of their children and need to get them involved in the program, have a parents club for the band or the chorus. It seems very obvious to [need to] do that but it doesn’t happen very often. I think the most important thing is that if parents find out their child is in a school that doesn’t have music and the school down the block has a great music program, then the parents should complain because every child deserves music. It’s also the role of the music teacher to be proactive. I stood on a soapbox my whole life and you know, it’s interesting because people say, “look how they’re getting rid of music teachers.” To be very honest with you, in all the years that I was at the department of education, I never knew of a good music teacher that was let go. A good music teacher who really added to the culture of the school, and changed the culture of the school, and worked together with the non-music teachers (the social studies teachers, the English teachers) to create a culture of the Arts in the school, it changed the school and they would have been devastated without that person. So I really believe that people have to be proactive and fight for what they believe every child should have, especially music teachers.
The easiest thing to start [with], is to have every kid start singing. Every child in an elementary school should sing. And every student should have the opportunity to sing a diverse repertoire of songs from the time they’re little. They should move, they should create, they should improvise; they should learn to do all those things. Then around the third or fourth grade students should learn to start to play a recorder so that they can read music, and that’s very inexpensive. Then by the time they get to the fourth grade they should be able to be in either a chorus or an instrumental ensemble. In New York City we happen to be lucky, actually it’s not only in New York City, all over the country. VH1 Save the Music Foundation is willing to put instruments in any school: instruments, piano laboratories, guitars, in any school that promises to hire a music teacher. They won’t leave it there if the music teacher is let go or the music teacher leaves unless the teacher is replaced. This is a national program; they have it all over the country. We have a number of schools in New York City that have taken advantage of that opportunity.
The other thing is, as I mentioned, I wrote this curriculum in collaboration with the cultural community of New York City: with the Philharmonic, with the Metropolitan Opera Guild, with Jazz at Lincoln Center. These people feel very strongly, the way a music teacher does, that whatever they do in the schools, whether they bring a teaching artist in to demonstrate a violin or a flute or whether they prepared the kids for a concert that they take them to, their work is never as effective if there’s no music teacher in the school. So they will be the first ones to tell you that they need to have music teachers in the school so that they can, not take over their job, but enrich and enhance the knowledge that they have and the opportunities for the children.