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Group wants instrumental music back in elementary school

December 05, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

Besides the thrill of creating the first few notes of a familiar song, elementary school students who play classical music also get a taste of science, math and even foreign language.

The air flowing through a flute illustrates the kinds of experiments they could see in science class. The concept of half notes and quarter notes supplies the math. And they get their first brush with Italian reading music.

But instrumental music is longer part of the elementary education in Washington County after principals argued successfully two years ago that it interfered with regular classes.

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"I feel kids are being cheated. I think our mind-set in this county is that music is a frill," said Rob Hovermale, part of a local group of teachers and parents who want to see the program returned.

Hovermale said between 30 and 40 teachers have been meeting in the county to talk about ways to return instrumental music to elementary schools.

The group has contacted Parent Teacher Associations and Citizen Advisory Committees to spread the word about their campaign and they hope to meet with the Washington County Board of Education.

They won't have to convince board vice president B. Marie Byers that instrumental music is good for kids. Byers voted to keep the program when the board voted to eliminate instrumental music in elementary schools in 1995.

"Music is a cultural heritage here in Washington County and therefore should be preserved," Byers said.

Board member Doris J. Nipps the program was cut after elementary school principals complained they were having trouble offering both regular classes and music lessons. Music teachers would visit the different schools to teach classes, Nipps said.

When music students left their regular classes for instrument lessons, teachers would not feel comfortable about covering new material until the students returned, Nipps said.

But Nipps said music has not been completely eliminated from elementary classes. Students are offered a general music course in which they learn about composers and other subjects, Nipps said. Students also play "Orff" instruments, which are small versions of drums and other instruments, teachers said.

Nipps said she believes the general music course is sufficient for students.

"I'm willing to sit down and discuss it with them. But there are only so many hours in a school day," Nipps said.

Hovermale, band director at E. Russell Hicks Middle School, said it is ironic that instrumental music in elementary schools was cut in a county where music is so highly valued. High school marching bands have a loyal following in the county, and the North Hagerstown High School band has been able to capture two appearances in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Changes in the quality of the music program are starting to be felt.

Sixth-graders at Springfield Middle School traditionally have performed an instrumental Christmas concert. But the class couldn't have one this year because the students did not have the musical knowledge to put it on, said Garman Bowers, band director at Springfield.

"There's no reason for it," Bowers said.

School officials ended the music program "and took no concern or interest in what it was going to do to the children," Bowers said.

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