And the band played on | AspenTimes.com

And the band played on

John Colson

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN Music education in the Aspen schools is on the mend after programs at the middle and high schools went into a tailspin during the 2005-06 school year. According to school district officials, the trouble began when popular music teacher Nancy Beyea went on personal leave and her replacement did not work out for what Beyea termed “a variety of reasons.” As a result, the schools’ various orchestra, band and choir classes lost their focus and consistency; students fled the classes in large numbers in favor of other electives. Aspen High School Principal Charlie Anastas conceded that the problem was one of “horrible teaching” by Beyea’s replacements.Beyea resumed teaching choir and band at the middle school last semester. And Anastas expressed hope that the result of a “national search” for a new high school music teacher will turn things around. According to Anastas, Sue Wasienko appears to be winning the confidence of students, which Beyea said is critical to a successful music education program. Anastas also cited Beyea’s return to the middle school as another sign that the programs will recover their strength.

Aspen School Board member Charla Belinski suggested in the fall that the board look into the apparent disintegration of the programs during the previous school year. Belinski said at the time she heard music classes were getting back on track, but wanted official confirmation that things were looking up.Belinski got what she wanted at Monday’s school board meeting. Beyea and Anastas both said the music program is pulling itself out of the tailspin but still needs attention.”This year our numbers are consistent,” Anastas said. The number of high school students enrolled in second-semester band and choir classes was about the same as in the first semester.Beyea said Monday that the combined enrollment drop in band and choir classes was about 17 percent to 20 percent from the time she went on leave until the first semester of this school year.Anastas said the school has been working to promote the band and choir programs by scheduling performances at school functions and planned to do more promotions in the future.And, he said: “We finally got a room” for regular music classes. Anastas and Aspen Elementary School Principal Doreen Goldyn have worked out a schedule for older students to use the elementary school band room, a joint use intended during the construction of the elementary school 15 years ago but abandoned when the band room was needed for regular classroom instruction. When the district built a new pod of elementary school classrooms over the summer, the band room was returned to its original use.

In a wide-ranging discussion on the value of music education, school board members and administrators talked about the trade-offs that students must make in order to take all their required courses and still learn music. Beyea told the board that “our kids have a bent for music, and our kids have a need for the creative arts.” Beyea gives kids who join the band program with no prior musical experience three months of free lessons on her own time, and she surrenders her lunch hours to teach.As an example of the level of student interest, she said a group of students agreed to come in at 6:45 a.m. to take part in a jazz class. She will begin auditions for new participants in the seventh- and eighth-grade jazz class next week.Superintendent Diana Sirko pointed out, however, that middle and high schools students have a range course requirements and electives to explore, and that there are trade-offs to consider regarding which classes an individual student selects.”Kids are always busy,” Beyea countered, arguing that music education represents a continuum of work and study that can be threatened with extinction if interrupted.”If I lose them” to other classes, or if replacement teachers do a bad job, “I lose them” and they often simply give up on music, she said.

Board member Sally Hansen asked Sirko if, “philosophically,” the district has been engineering its class schedules so that music is not a year-round option in order to encourage students “to explore something else” in the electives catalog.”Yes,” Sirko answered, “because kids don’t always know what all their interests are” and should be nudged to try as many different subject areas as possible. Then, if they want to pursue a particular subject further, they can join an after-school club or other group.But, Belinski countered: “We’ve lost so much of this program; how are you ever going to get it back?”Participants at the board meeting generally agreed that the district should reinvigorate the band program, at the middle school level especially, to provide a “feeder program” for music instruction in high school.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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