An open letter to Principal Kodani

I fear I may have to turn this into a form letter this year. Music education is under attach everywhere. It’s time to engage and to fight for our children’s future.

This was sent to Principal James Kodani (james.kodani@lausd.net) . I hope you’ll write, too. More about this story here.

Dear Principal Kodani

It was with great sadness that I read of your decision to terminate the nationally admired music program at Virgil Middle School:

 

http://www.citywatchla.com/8box-left/1901-the-day-the-music-died-and-what-to-do-about-it

 

There is now a huge wealth of solid research showing the incredible positive impact of music study on young people. Quality music tuition increases development of problem solving skills, develops concentration, improves self-esteem and self-discipline, enhances social skills, increases the development of memorization ability and teaches pattern recognition. Young people who play and study music learn how to learn. Studying music not only increases cognitive development, it increases emotional development, and can be a key stabilizing element for those going through the many emotional ups  of teenage years. It is no accident that the highest rated possible variable among students accepted into both law school and medical school in one major study was playing a string instrument at some point.

Of course, it is very hard to know all that is going on from one or two newspaper stories, but it does seem that many people affected by this decision do not feel that they were adequately consulted beforehand, and that they also feel that you are not engaging with them in constructive conversation about how to solve this problem now. Perception matters, and this will be perceived as a crushing blow to many parents who know what the program has meant to their children. My biggest concern is for the next generation of Virgil students, who will not have the same academic opportunities their predecessors had.

I sincerely hope you will think long and hard about whether this was a good decision for your students. I know there are huge funding challenges within the school district, but that is all the more reason for you to be the most passionate public advocate for your students’ needs and rights. I should hope that you will soon be out in the streets with those parents, telling the world that next year’s students deserve and need the same opportunities Virgil has been giving young musicians for so many  decades.

Respectfully yours

Kenneth Woods

 

 

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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7 comments on “An open letter to Principal Kodani”

  1. Kenneth Woods

    I have received this reply from Principal Kodani

    Mr. Woods,
    I thank you for your communication and I could not agree with you more as to the impact the arts have on a student’s capacity to be innovative and creative ….well beyond the “arts” room. Please know these decisions are not made in isolation or without the students in mind. No one has to explain the value of a rounded education for all Virgil students, for I too am a graduate of Virgil Middle.(it was called a Junior High when I attended!)

    I have been in many conversations with the Local District Superintendent and his staff regarding the future of the arts at Virgil. At this time there is no reason to release the instruments and a plan is being crafted with the current budget situation in mind. The public may not be aware that elective courses are held to a higher norm table, e.g.- our math classes are at 22 students to 1 teacher…but our elective courses are at 43:1. Virgil is losing over 300 students next year with the opening of charter schools, magnets or families moving out of the area. This translates to roughly 12 teachers being displaced. Elective teachers would be in that mix. For every one person that says don’t cut music, I have another person saying don’t cut dance, etc.

    These are challenging times and please be assured that I am trying to be mindful of the decisions I make. As much as I feel accountable to the teachers and public, I consider my real bosses to be the 1200 students I have to answer to at the end of the day as they move on…hopefully prepared for high school.

    Again, I thank you for your thoughtful communication.

    Jim Kodani
    Principal
    Virgil Middle School

  2. Jeff Bruce

    O.K. According to Principal Kodani’s response, the problem is one of budget. He says that a music teacher handles classrooms averaging 43 students, while other teachers handle classrooms of 22. So, for every music teacher a school fires, one needs two other teachers. How does that save money?

  3. JOAN Mall Baral M.F.A. Ed

    Good Luck on the recovery of enrichment funding for the arts.

    One might wonder who decided what the norm for elective classes should be: 43 to 1
    What would be logistically possible for Prep time, Standardized Lessons in the following areas:
    Visual Examples and primary sources, Bulletin Boards in Classroom, Posted Standards, handouts.

    Since Visual Art includes Anatomy, Botany,Geology, Geography (Landscapes), Zoology (animals), Physics (Color Theory) Multiculturalism in Early Civilizations to enrich Social Studies, World Social History, Math (Measuring, Symmetry, Proportion, Perspective) & Geometry (Still Life, Architecture), Psychology in evaluating Portraiture, Mood, Self Esteem, Vocabulary, Creative Writing and Analysis (Abstract v. Concrete) and compare and contrast styles, social influences, historical development.

    Can you imagine dealing one on one in each 50 minute class so that every child is recognized and validated? Look around the halls at Virgil, and the Auditorium Gallery and know that the work was all done by children who got an ART EDUCATION. Those were the good old days.

    Do teachers have a family life after a day like this? Whew!!

    Patrons and Advocates of Arts Education go down in history as enlightened. Kudos for Courage.
    Thank You in Advance for pushing a reinstatement of Arts at Virgil and District Wide. We have
    the money, we have the talent, we have community support.

  4. Claudio D Alcantar

    My name is Claudio Alcantar, and I am a Virgil Middle School Alumni class of 2001. I was a graduate of Belmont High School, graduated with an Associates in Arts Degree from Pasadena City College and most recently graduated from California State University, Northridge with a Bachelor of Music Performance with Honors Cum Laude.
    I am very shocked to hear that the music program at Virgil is coming to a close. This music program means a lot to me and to my community and I believe that it is a huge mistake to take this away from us. I personally do not think that the administration knows how valuable this music program is to the students, the alumni, and the community. For me, I hold this program responsible for taking me off the streets and giving me what I needed to succeed as a human being. Being in Miss Quan’s class gave me a strong foundation in music education, allowed for creative expression, and allowed me to acquire critical thinking skills that I was able to apply in all my studies. Beyond that, it taught me how to be respectful of others, how to build a strong community with classmates by making music together, and most importantly it set me off for success in life.
    As you may or may not know, we the alumni have something very special going on at Virgil Middle School that can serve as a model to the rest of the school. The Alumni Orchestra is an ever-growing family of people whose common bond is that music plays an important and ongoing role in the personal development of each one of us. Not only do we get together and make music on a weekly basis, but we also give back to the students at Virgil by coming in during the school hours to coach, enrich and hopefully inspire them with our music making. It is a wonderful feeling to see the student’s eyes light up when they hear you play or explain musical concepts specially because they know that I once was a student sitting in the same place a few years back. Not too many alumni keep contact with each other but for some reason the music students have always kept close and always seem to have a place to return here at Virgil. Removing this program will definitely destroy a valuable experience for the alumni, the community and current students at Virgil.
    I urge you to support the music program at Virgil Middle school, for it is truly something special. I don’t think Mr Kodani and the administration knows how valuable our program is, how successful it has been, and how much it can benefit the students in the long run. The music department has been very successful at “getting students prepared for high school” but for many of us it prepared us beyond that. It gave me the tools necessary to graduate from high school, graduate from a University and most importantly become a successful adult in my community! Which is why I chose to give back to this program and the students at Virgil, so that someday they too will be grateful for their experiences and in return give back and create a never ending bond between students alumni and the community.

  5. Julio J. Sequeira

    There is no denying that times are tough. There’s no denying that for public education times are even tougher. Within public education certain programs seem to get the short end of the money stick and sometimes not even a twig. These programs eventually disappear under the cloak of “saving money,” which is more like amputating an arm instead of putting on a band- aid over a bleeding finger.

    I have seen first hand what wonderful things can happen with a well-rounded public school education. I am very fortunate that I went to Virgil Middle School and Belmont High School when I did back in the late 90s and early part of the new millennium. Both schools boasted phenomenal art departments; Virgil boasted a choral teacher, an instrumental teacher, and even three general music teachers, not too mention an excellent art/year book advisor. Belmont boasted two music teachers, an instrumental music teacher and another in choral music, both teachers even started team-teaching before it became trendy in LAUSD; the same can be said about the music teachers at Virgil.

    Sadly, as we know times changed, and not for the better. Since I graduated from high school in 2002 I have seen the illustrious music departments become a far cry of what they were. Virgil dwindled down to just one, yes one, music teacher to service an entire school before the program was killed unceremoniously with just one-day noticed and week after Ms. Quan put on a fantastic end of the year concert that turned out to be the final music concert at Virgil in which alumni going as far back as the 1960s where in attendance yet no Virgil administrator took the time to attend. Gone are the days when students had the option to join choir or learn an instrument, gone are the days when Virgil had five music teachers and a thriving program to boast.

    Now Ms. Quan has been “displaced” and with her music at Virgil is now fully terminated. Why are one teacher and one program so important? Virgil with Ms. Quan was a place were young students would learn the value of a music education that prepared, not “hopefully prepared,” as the now-principal, Mr. Kodani wrote in his reply to an article by Jeff Bruce in defense of the long and storied history of music at Virgil, students for high school and life. That article can be read at http://www.citywatchla.com/8box-left/1901-the-day-the-music-died-and-what-to-do-about-it.

    Ms. Quan was the lone music teacher still giving students a meaningful education and not just a music education but in life. This evident by the amount of alumni that visited and returned to volunteer our time with her and the new generation of students. We even brought in other musician friends that wanted to help out the ailing music program. Imagine that, alumni returning to a middle school to help out?

    It’s a real shame that the music program that Ms. Quan has nurture has now been gotten the plug pulled. She is now sure she won’t be back next year to continue to forge musical friendships and inspire future musicians, music teachers, and even people that do not continue on with music. After many warnings that became promises the music program is now a thing of the past. The only relics that remain are the instruments. Instruments that at best will be seating in a converted shop class collecting dust, left to decay; or at worst thrown away like garbage.

    Music at Virgil Middle School is now “displaced” for good. After that, kids from that neighborhood will not get the music education that should be a part of a well-rounded educational diet. There is a new “drum line” class being taught by someone who did not major in music. This person has three “drum line” classes that started to infiltrate Ms. Quan’s classroom. First she was “displaced” from the auditorium to a converted shop class. Now she has been ousted. Drum line is only part of a music education not music education. Drum line students, earning 5 credits, do not and can not learn the California Standards in music, as you will know, as they are void of pitch recognition, musicianship, and the basic rhythm readings, instead they are learning by a shorthand of “R and L” for right hand and left hand.

    As a true Trojan, Ms. Quan continues to fight on and do what she does best, she teaches music. She has even inspired a few of alumni to return and start a community group that plays music with her students. In this group, we also brought in our friends that we met in musical journey in college. Yes, that is right, college. A quick glance of music students in middle school and high school and you will see that many of us when on to college, some of us even majored in music. While some of us continue with music in college others opt to study another field while others go on to a vocational college, all becoming productive members of society. As you can gathered that means that we graduated from high school, a goal that all district and city officials want for every student in the district. We are products of Virgil’s mission to create and develop responsible adults. I, along with my fellow Belmont alumni that are also Virgil alumni, we entered to learn and now returned to serve.

    Administrators and people that can make a difference will agree with the countless studies that have been done on children that study music. Mr. Kodani himself agreed in his response that, “young people who play and study music learn how to learn.” He continues by saying that, “quality music tuition increases development of problem[-]solving skills, develops concentration, improves self-esteem and self-discipline, enhances social skills, increases the development of memorization ability and teaches pattern recognition.” There is no surprise that Mr. Kodani would say this, after all he was an art teacher before he became an administrator. What is surprising is that in the end of his response he says that the decision to eliminate the music program at Virgil was a good decision for the students, as he says that he is accountable to his students at the end of the day. Yet Mr. Kodani made the call to eliminate music at Virgil without any parental dialogue, without any community knowledge. Unfortunately or fortunately the community around Virgil is made many non-English speakers that feel that public schools always do what is right for students and rarely, if ever, will speak out against cuts. Had Virgil been in a more affluent neighborhood of Los Angeles there would have been uproar.

    Many other administrators and elected officials will say that a music education is luxury, an expense to run, especially in tough economic times. The truth is that is expensive, but not as expensive as running sports program or the entire math faculty. The quick answer is “eliminate the arts to save public education.” Money will be save, but at the expense of a child’s creativity. Music is as essential as all the other subjects. To paraphrase Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser:

    • Music is a science: It’s exact, specific, and it demands exact acoustics. A musical score is a chart, a graph which indicates frequencies, intensities, volume changes, melody, and harmony all at once with the most exact control of time.
    • Music is mathematics: It’s rhythmically based on the subdivision of time into fractions which must be done instantaneously, not worked on paper.
    • Music is a foreign language: Most musical terms are in Italian, German, or French; and the notation is not English, but a highly developed shorthand that uses symbols to represent ideas. The semantics of music is the most complex universal language.
    • Music is history: Music usually reflects the environment and times of its creation, often even the country and racial feeling.
    • Music is physical education: It requires fantastic coordination of fingers, hands, arms, lip, cheek, and facial muscles, in addition to extraordinary control of the throat, lungs, stomach, and chest muscles, which respond instantly to the sound the ear hears and mind interprets.
    • Most importantly, music is art: It allows a human being to take all these disciplines and use them to create humanism, feeling and emotion.

    I therefore ask and beg any administrator and education specialist to find another subject that incorporates all of the above into one package like music. Who are we to say that the ancient Greeks were wrong, after all Plato called music the music important subject to learn as it incorporated math into something that was heard. The Greeks, yes those Greeks that were the founders of the Western World, gave music it’s important. We owe it to the inventors of democracy to maintain music in our curriculum.

    Eliminating a music program is bad for a school, bad for children and bad for our society as we are creating a society that will be culturally void as both Placido Domingo and Gustavo Dudamel said last year at a community outreach program at the Music Center. Most importantly, you will have limited students from the area in their education, failing to give them an equal education as students in other parts of the country receive.

    Musically yours,

    Julio J. Sequeira
    Virgil Middle School Class of 1998
    Belmont High School Class of 2002
    Cal State Dominguez Hills Class of 2011, B.A. Music Education

  6. Denise Quan

    Please also see Sarah Perez’s comment to “Outrage in Los Angeles, travesty in Scotland.”

  7. Denise Quan

    Thank you, Maestro Woods, for your support! “The Day the Music Died …” has been shared more than 900 times and numerous supporters have written to the principal, the local and district superintendents, and the president of the Los Angeles Board of Education. However, as far as I know, you are the only person who has received a reply.

    Virgil was fortunate to have an alumni orchestra whose 30 members performed with and tutored the middle school students. The alumni dated back as far as 1996, my first year at the school, and this past year they received free coaching from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. During my time at Virgil the L.A. Philharmonic performed twice at our school and we regularly attended their concerts and rehearsals at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Hollywood Bowl, and more recently Walt Disney Concert Hall.

    Over the years our students received coaching from not only the L.A. Philharmonic but also the Young Musicians Foundation and the String Family Players, a professional string quintet headed by Dr. David Young, principal bass with the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra. In addition our students attended classes and/or masterclasses at the University of Southern California (USC), the Colburn School, and the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County (formerly the Los Angeles Music Center). Out of all the orchestras in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, only ours was selected to perform a 45-minute concert for the retirement of Superintendent Roy Romer in 2006.

    Our alumni include performance majors at USC and California State University, Northridge, and a music education major at California State University, Dominguez Hills. However, the vast majority of them major in other fields, including accounting, art, international relations, liberal arts, mathematics, microbiology, pre-dentistry, and pre-medicine. Among the colleges and universities which have accepted them are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Sarah Lawrence; Wellesley; the California Institute of Technology; the University of Oregon; Biola; Franklin & Marshall; Mount St. Mary’s; and the University of California at Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Irvine, and Riverside. The alumni’s accomplishments are even more impressive when placed in the context of Virgil being an urban school which serves a low-income neighborhood in which nearly all of the residents are native speakers of languages other than English.

    On June 23 we learned that June 24 would be the final day of the Virgil Orchestra’s 68-year history. On that last day several alumni visited me, including the concertmasters from 2005 and 2006. The elder of the two was waiting for me when I arrived at school and he was solemn and quiet throughout the day. He wrote on the chalkboard, “Anthony Unida was here. Save our orchestra.” I appreciate your efforts and those of your readers as we try to honor his request.

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