Not everyone's in tune

Many schools still lack instrumental music

Many schools still lack instrumental music

April 25, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY - It isn't that 13-year-old Robert Hockenbury dislikes playing in the band.

He would just like to hear how his own instrument would sound in an ensemble of its own.

"It's harder to improve when you don't have something to look up to," said Hockenbury, who plays violin, bass and bass guitar in the Clear Spring Middle School band.

Instrumental music, which was eliminated from Washington County public elementary schools in 1995, has made a comeback, but the class still isn't on the agenda in many schools.

According to Rob Hovermale, instructional coordinator for visual and performing arts, seven elementary schools have picked up daytime instrumental music programs since the 2002-03 school year. Two more offer after-school programs.


Hovermale said Tuesday that all middle schools and high schools offer band.

While Clear Spring Middle School, Clear Spring High School and Hancock Middle-Senior High School offer only band, several elementary schools offer only orchestra, Hovermale said. Many elementary schools still offer neither.

"They talk about No Child Left Behind, well, I feel children are being left behind when there's a school that doesn't offer anything and there's a school 10 miles down the road that offers music and foreign language," said Kim Austin, the mother of four children, including a Boonsboro High School freshman.

Austin and several music directors said they believe programs such as music, art and foreign language have taken a back seat to core academic subjects.

Todd Medcalf teaches orchestra at Springfield Middle School and Williamsport High School. He said he believes the county has gone "way overboard" on academics at the expense of subjects such as music and physical education.

While Medcalf conceded some students might need longer periods to focus on subjects such as reading and math, he said he believed other students might benefit instead from the opportunity to explore other interests.

The county's approach is too general, Medcalf said.

"It's like here's the disease, let's scrape the whole body," Medcalf said.

Hovermale would like to re-establish elementary programs by the 2007-08 school year, he said.

"I think, overall, it's what's best for the county, it's what best for the kids, and I think it will establish equity throughout the county," Hovermale said.

Hovermale said it's important to pique students' musical interests and model good habits when children are young.

Teaching instruments to older children on simple songs, such as "Mary Had a Little Lamb," isn't so easy.

"They had said starting a program in the sixth grade creates a problem. It creates a balloon in the middle school, and then those students don't continue on, and we have seen that," Hovermale said.

Hockenbury, an eighth-grader, has signed up for band for next year. He'll play bass guitar in the fall, then switch to bass and violin when marching band season ends.

Strains of the national anthem drifted from the music room to an office nearby where Hockenbury sat with his bass.

He said he's never been fond of woodwinds or drums. He fell in love with the violin in fifth grade, a year before he was eligible to join the band, he said.

"My mom wanted me to try something. It was up to me what it was, and I tried the violin," Hockenbury said. "And I just loved it. There's just something about it."

Hockenbury and Director Mark Valko said they adapt the band's music for the strings.

According to Valko, creating an orchestra program at a school as small as Clear Spring Middle could hurt enrollment in the choral and band programs. That shouldn't matter, he said.

"It may take away from the band program or the chorus program, but as long as kids are enjoying music, that's all we care about," Valko said.

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