(01/28/2005)
"I met a girl who sang the blues and I asked her for some happy news but she just smiled and turned away, I went down to the sacred store where I'd heard the music years before, but the man there said the music wouldn't play and in the streets the children screamed, the lovers cried, and the poets dreamed but not a word was spoken, the church bells all were broken and the three men I admire most, the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, they caught the last train for the coast, the day, the music, died ..." - Don McLean "American Pie"

In the ruckus over No Child Left Behind, teaching to the test, funding problems, performance audits, declining student enrollment, laying-off teachers and block scheduling - music and the arts in Calhoun schools are taking a back seat.

The problem is not exclusive to Calhoun, but some school systems have been able to overcome some of the set-backs.

Calhoun's middle-high school band appears to be dead in the water, with no feeder program to fill the ranks and no after-school band director at $6,000 a year.

Much of the music and art programs are no longer mainstream.

School board president Carlene Frederick said the programs could have become more stable if a recent levy had passed. She said it is "a terrible thing they are being short-changed."

"For several years the middle school feeder programs have been fading. This year they are non-existent," said Calhoun music teacher Faye Chambers. "We have gone from 70 choir members to 11 this year."

Chambers recalled the hey-dey of kids involved in music programs, coming to a high school football game where the choir was on the field at half-time, singing their hearts out, including members of the football team.

Frederick recalls how proud the county was of the high school band, specialty choirs and other musical endeavors. "It brought people back to the county to enjoy "The Follies," she said.

There has been little outcry as the band has dwindled to about twenty kids with no instructor.

School systems are under the hammer with complicated rules and mandates affecting curriculum.

"Music and art is not a cherry on the top of life" said Jude Binder, the artistic director and teacher of Heartwood in the Hills, one of West Virginia's leading centers for the arts, located in Calhoun County.

"That which is in children is what education should inspire," she said at a recent conference in Charleston. "How can we rob children of their uniqueness?" expressing concern that children are no longer being nourished in school systems that teach to the test.

A Calhoun band member withdrew from Calhoun Middle-High School two weeks ago to move to Ohio with relatives, saying "I would like to have faith it would get better, but ..."

The school board is advertising for a part-time after-school band director to replace Harry Beall, who resigned to take a position in Doddridge County.

So far, there have been no takers.

The West Virginia Board of Education may have increased hope for choral and music programs by a more recent policy revision known as 2510.

It mandates middle school music programs.

"These required courses are considered part of the core curriculum and shall be taught at each grade level each year as separate subjects with adequate time to achieve mastery of the West Virginia content standards and objectives," says the policy.

It further states that "Choral and instrumental music must be offered no later than grade six." Board president Frederick says she believes all the board members will try and do what it takes to improve the offerings.

If changes are not made soon, the day the music died will have come and gone.

Read "YOU ARE THE MUSIC WHILE THE MUSIC LASTS" - High School Band Fading, Funding And Scheduling Creates Crunch


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