Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Good news: SFUSD school music program rocks!

At a time when the news is often about what our schools our lacking, I wanted to share some good news happening every day in San Francisco public schools – the elementary instrumental music program that serves more than 5,000 4th and 5th graders in SFUSD.

I was delighted and proud last weekend to attend the annual SFUSD citywide 4th/5th grade music concert at Lincoln High School. This is the second year my daughter performed as a budding flute player.

Over 800 musicians were selected to perform from among all SFUSD elementary schools. First year trumpets, clarinets and flutists performed in groups, followed by first year violas. Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza was in attendance, and wore his own beautiful black velvet hat to play a mariachi tune with the first year violins! The guy has talent!

The second year violins played together followed by the wind instrument band. It brought tears to my eyes to see what these dedicated music teachers can accomplish with these eager young students in less than one hour each week. Several long-time retiring music teachers (one had 41 years in SFUSD!) were honored.

My own daughter has been inspired through this program to continue flute next year in middle school. Her older brother is an enthusiastic viola player in orchestra and electric guitar in jazz band. Several of my fellow parents (all of us amatour musicians ourselves) noted that we didn’t have access to this type of program when we were growing up.

Here’s one thing that is definitely RIGHT about SFUSD and our public schools!


  1. We did have the same model program in our California public schools when I was growing up (Mill Valley schools, 1959-1971). Of course, that was an entirely different era with a polar opposite philosophy about taxes, education and infrastructure. But what I find surprising and impressive is that SFUSD has managed to hang onto the program through all the turmoil and cutting since Prop. 13! Not only that, many of our middle schools have full band and orchestra as part of the curriculum -- and those that don't now have an intriguing array of extracurricular music programs, thanks to Prop. A. And we have SOTA as a high school option -- AS WELL AS strong music programs in most of our other high schools.

    My kids started in the music program at Lakeshore in 4th grade, were both in band and jazz band at Aptos, and then went on to SOTA -- one in trumpet, one in trombone. They've both been in many community ensembles too -- my daughter (a SOTA sophomore) performed in the Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival two weeks ago, in both the SFJazz High School All-Stars and the Berkeley Jazzschool Studio Band. She'll be playing (free performance) with the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble in Dolores Park on May 8 (performance time to be announced). My son is a jazz trumpet major at Oberlin. I say all this not to brag but to point out where SFUSD's arts programs took them and propelled them!

  2. For some reason it seems all of the posts have been removed from the site. Kate, can you check on it? Thanks.

  3. I was also at the concert and it was great. Looking forward to middle school band concerts next year.

  4. I worked at Jefferson Elementary for 5 years and saw first hand the strong music program that Jefferson had. Rob Daniels was an amazing music teacher (now the director of SFUSD programs).
    It requires a strong committment on the part of the administrator and the faculty to keep this in place AT ALL SCHOOLS EAST and WEST.
    Some teachers in schools with a high number of underperforming students try to say that the music is secondary to math and reading. This is unfortunate. I have worked in schools in Bayview and Western Addition. All children need music.
    We are fortunate to have such dedicated and persistent staff in SFUSD Performing Arts Programing.

  5. @9:40 - I couldn't agree more that under-performing students need music. Actually, I really feel that it was due to my daughter's daily music class in middle school that her academic abilities shot forward. The kind of complex thinking used in music really helped develop her brain (including her memory, so important in academics), I feel!

  6. Yes yes yes. I was a musician, and it's the one thing that taught me the discipline, butt-in-the-chair, practice practice practice skills I've used in every other part of my life. It's one of those investments that pays back over a lifetime. Glad to hear SFUSD is doing such a good job with it.

  7. 2:26
    I was a 'band geek' from 6th grade through college. While I was not a music major, I still believe that what I personally gained from being in band did more for my personal and professional growth than anything I did or learned in school! Solo & ensemble competitions taught be how to practice and hold myself and my team accountable; in high school and college it provided me leadership development opportunities. Then there were the friendships, the band competitions and trips. It was the best education I had on history and art and I call on it to this day.

    Raised in a secular household, I feel that my most profound spiritual experiences in life were while playing my instrument with a wind ensemble.

    It made me so happy to see that 5000 kids in elementary school were just starting their own experiences and musical adventures!

  8. Too bad the middle school choral programs are being cut. Presidio Middle School is going to lose our Choral Teacher who comes in 0 period to teach kids music theory and singing techniques. This past Spring, the annual school play was a musical, and featured acting, the school orchestra, and the school choir. The production was just amazing. I am saddend to think the school will be without Ms. Karney next year. She has done so much to elevate the program in the past 3 years.

  9. Aptos will have to cut our choral teacher/program as well. While it has a fantastic instrumental music program, it can be daunting to start (and if you miss out on 6th grade you really can't jump in after that.)

    Chorus is such a fundamental - and inexpensive by comparison - offering!

    I get annoyed that Prop H money get's decided at the district and doesn't just come to the schools to decide which program they want. They directed the money to us to increase the library, but cut the chorus. It may have been the same decision our SSC came to, but would have been better if we made it ourselves.

  10. So, so sad about the cuts to choral music. Singing in a children's choir and in my school choirs was, yes, the closest thing I ever felt to a religious experience. I learned what it means to be just a tiny part of something magnificent.

  11. There is an article in the Chronicle's Bay Area section today about the choral program at Mission HS. (4/22/10). I toured Mission recently and saw a lot of good stuff, including this program. I hope it doesn't get cut like the other ones mentioned!!

  12. Band/orchestra has become much better at the elementary school level since Prop H.

    All schools now have both options for children. Some elementary schools have instrument caches that are lent to students over the course of the year.

    I've attended the elementary school all-city event a few times. Seeing all those fiddle players on the same stage looks a little like Grand Central at rush hour! But the kids are obviously having a great time.

    I hope we can keep the strong music momentum going despite all the budget cuts.

  13. Everyone who attended yesterday's Parents for Public Schools Annual General Meeting got the suirprise treat of hearing Burton High School's Taste of Class choir, a gospel-style group led by Marcus Dyson. Wow! They have a performance at Burton the evening of May 22, time to come.