School music matters: please finish the music building

by the Music Advocacy Group

We are writing to urge the Orcas School Board and Administration to make the completion of the school music building an essential priority in the upcoming school bond.

For now, all music classes taught by Pamela Wright – including K-4 music, 5th and 6th Grade Strings, Middle School Strings, and High School Strings – meet in the tight quarters of the “old music room” in the Elementary School building. Nearly 200 different students come through this classroom each week, many of them multiple times a week. They use keyboards, drums, bells, ukeleles, violins, violas, cellos and many other instruments. In addition to the students, the classroom must accommodate instrument and equipment storage, a piano, files and the teacher’s desk.

Pamela Wright’s current classroom is not big enough for our large music classes. Many violin, viola and cello students do not have room to draw their bows across their instruments. Mrs. Wright, quite literally, is confined behind her stand and does not have space to move about the room to help students with finger positions and bowings. While many classes are cheek by jowl in the room, one class of 28 students was so full to bursting that arrangements had to be made for them to meet in the cafeteria. This is not acceptable.

Thanks to a 2012 bond, the School District completed the first half of construction needed to house our school music program when they added the beautiful new band room which provides space for elementary, middle school, and high school band classes taught by Darren Dix. The planned new classroom for Mrs. Wright’s K-4 elementary music classes and strings classes was cut from the Phase II construction because of financial constraints. It should now be included in the Phase III proposal.

Some people have suggested that Mrs. Wright’s 5th through 12th grade strings classes could also be taught in the band room. To be clear, this is impossible. The need to schedule the band classes and the strings classes from the same grade level at the same time makes this impossible. There are 63 students in Mr. Dix’s 5th through 12th grade band classes who meet multiple times each week. Combined with Mrs. Wright’s students, this is about 260 students involved in school music. There are not enough class periods in the week to accommodate all those students in a single music room.

Our strings groups have consistently received “Superior” ratings at regional music contests. Their scores often surpass those of high schools ten times our size who compete with “auditioned” groups. Our growing program is a reflection of that success. But this success comes in spite of significant limitations in classroom space and resources, and it’s clear the String Music Program cannot maintain or increase growth in its present classroom.

The Orcas community can be very proud of what our students have achieved. So let’s support our award-winning music program. The programs are already in place and are growing and thriving – the support from students, teachers, and parents is already here. We hope you will join the members of the Music Advocacy Group and our friends to urge the Orcas School Board and Administration to include the completion of the music building in the new bond proposal.

The Music Advocacy Group Board and Advisory Members: Catherine Pederson, Jim Shaffer-Bauck, Doug McTavish, Jan Ehrlichman, Miriam Ziegler, Ian Lister, Joyce Burghardt, Sharon Ho, George Eberle, Victoria Parker, Steve Alboucq, Kristen Wilson, Ed Wilson.