Outrage in Los Angeles, travesty in Scotland

Just this morning we learned that the barbarians and vandals are attacking music education in Scotland, with a 50% funding cut ordered for the wonderful National Youth Orchestras of Scotland. Here is a sample of their work.

 

NYJOS and Strings Collaboration from NYOScotland on Vimeo.

 

I know Creative Scotland have to make tough choices in tough times, but this is not the right choice. Let them know

 

Meanwhile, in Los Angles, the city’s premiere music program was abruptly cancelled when, without notice or discussion, principal James Kodani—[call him at 213.368.2800 X 2812   ( james.kodani@lausd.net) ] announced on the penultimate day of the term that there would be no music at Virgil Middle School next year.

Reblogged in its entirety because this is really important.

 

Original is here.James Kodani—213.368.2800 X 2812   ( james.kodani@lausd.net)

 

The Day the Music Died … and What to Do About It

06.27.2011
JEFF BRUCE
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EDUCATION

– Virgil Middle School (152 N. Vermont) has had a nationally renowned music program since the mid-1940’s, and has been known particularly for its orchestra (The Virgil Little Symphony), which was famous not only for its quality, but for its early racial integration in the 40’s and 50’s when arts programs were generally lily white.  (Link) Thus, it was particularly crushing when Principal James Kodani announced last Thursday morning, one day before the end of the school year, that music education would no longer be a part of Virgil’s curriculum.

That afternoon I visited the school to ask Mr. Kodani to reconsider his decision, and that if he was really set on terminating the program, to tell me what he intended to do with the substantial inventory of musical instruments, sheet music, and paraphernalia collected over the last seven decades.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kodani was unavailable, so I returned home and wrote him an email, asking him those questions.  I explained that I intended to write an article for CityWatch, and asked if he wished to write a companion piece.  He has not replied.

Next morning, concerned that the instruments (worth something in the neighborhood of $300,000) might begin to grow legs, I went to the school again.  As I arrived, I discovered fans and alumni of the orchestra–kids, young adults and a few over 50’s–protesting outside, announcing to passing traffic that Virgil was losing its music.

I spoke with the leader of the protest (an LAUSD substitute teacher), who informed me that Principal Kodani would not speak with her, so I suggested that we go in together, which we did.  He was too busy to grant us the 5 minutes we requested, so we went next door into the office suite shared by Assistant Principals Goade and Gurr.

Mr. Gurr was not in.  Ms. Goade told us that she was leaving her post that day to become principal at another school and hoped that we could appreciate that she did not want to get involved in the future issues of Virgil.  She indicated that she did not completely understand Principal Kodani’s very late decision and that earlier in the morning, at the request of the now-terminated music teacher, she had received a “tacit commitment” (whatever that is) from Principal Kodani to secure the instruments.

It seemed clear that she had opinions and equally clear that she was not going to share them.

So, what’s the issue?  Why should be we concerned?

First, as a people who believe in public education, we should all be troubled that the music and arts programs in the schools are being cut hugely (something like 40%) and that no one at LAUSD has proposed any alternatives.  No alternatives?  Why not?

Second, we should be saddened and perhaps angry because Virgil’s music program is the pride of its alumni and its community; and proud communities make for good students.

So far as I know, no one has even tried to raise money to continue this widely recognized and obviously well-run program.

Third, it bothers me that I have seen nothing in the Times nor heard anything on the radio about the disposition of instruments, but I have heard scuttlebutt from music educators about musical instruments and equipment being dumpstered, and we certainly do not want that to happen.

Let me state what should be obvious: instrumental music education doesn’t work without instruments.

Also, just as a matter of practical finances, there are many millions of dollars worth of instruments in the Los Angeles City Schools, mostly uninventoried, which will not be used next year.  At an absolute minimum the individual schools should know what instruments they own, how they plan to utilize them, or how they plan to store them securely for some future date.

Yes, we do have a financial problem.  There is no question of that, but we are not helpless, so let’s stop acting helpless.

Here’s a related family story: In the early 60’s, when Cold War fears about losing the race with the Soviets to get to the moon impelled the Kennedy administration to demand additional math and physics classes for public schools across the country, something had to give, and what gave were the arts and music programs, which took massive cuts.

At that time my father was a supervisor of music in LAUSD, and I can still picture him just beside himself with frustration.  But he recognized that LAUSD still had instruments and it had teachers dedicated to music education, and that there was some publicly owned space which just maybe he could negotiate to use on weekends.

Dad quit his job, wheedled and cajoled a few dozen of the music teachers who used to work under him to load their cars and station wagons with school instruments every Friday night and schlep them to the music building at Cal State LA Saturday morning so that music students displaced by the “improved” educational system could continue to learn to read music, to play an instrument, and to compete to be in an orchestra.

From servicing 50 or 60 kids the first few years, the average attendance has been somewhere around 350 for the past decade.  More important, other childrens  orchestras have copied (and sometimes improved upon) the model and at least one of these offshoots holds classes in a Los Angeles City school every Saturday.

So, what do we do?  First we insist that there be some kind of plan, whether it is a system-wide policy or the choice of local principals.

What’s the plan, Mr. Kodani?  What’s the plan, LAUSD?  What’s the plan, Board of Education?  Shall we do something more than just running in place and lighting our hair on fire?  Will you work with some of the numerous private orchestras and private arts schools to find a way to continue the music education of our children?

Will you accept help, or will you continue to watch the indignity of a decaying Los Angeles?  Let’s get a plan.

I am tired of these educational catastrophes.  How about you?  Want to do something?  Let’s try this:

 

  • If you are concerned with the loss of music education generally, or at Virgil Middle School specifically, email this article to your friends.
  • If you are concerned about the waste of millions of dollars worth of musical instruments and equipment (there’s at least $300,000 worth at Virgil—that’s just one school), email this article to your friends.
  • Call your child’s or grandchild’s school and ask if there will be any change to the music program next year.  Join the PTA and make it clear throughout the semester that music education is necessary education.

Use the list of email addresses and phone numbers below to ask the following questions:

  • How it is that the flagship music program of LAUSD could be shut down with only one day’s notice?
  • (For the schools who have terminated their music programs) where will the instruments be stored and do you have a complete inventory?
  • Will every school commit to inventorying the instruments and promise that none will be destroyed or discarded?
  • Will every school now without a music program sell, donate, or at least lend its instruments to outside educational institutions, whether private or public, so that music education in Los Angeles can continue?

Anything else you think is germane, but do contact them.  It’s our city.  It’s your kids.

INFO

● General Number for Virgil Middle School—213.368.2800
● Principal James Kodani—213.368.2800 X 2812   ( james.kodani@lausd.net)
● John Deasy (Superintendent of Schools) 213-241-7000  ( superintendent@lausd.net)
● Monica Garcia (President, Board of Education) 213.241-6180  ( monica.garcia@lausd.net)
● Dale Vigil (Dist. 4 Superintendent) 213.244-0100  ( dale.vigil@lausd.net)

Let’s do it.  Let’s all do it.  Let’s get our neighbors to do it.  Let’s make sure the people listed above, these people who are charged with doing the best thing for the children of Los Angeles, are doing it.

(Jeff Bruce is a community activist in Los Angeles. He can be reached at: aliasjb@gmail.com)
-cw

 

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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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5 comments on “Outrage in Los Angeles, travesty in Scotland”

  1. José Luis Martínez

    I live in México where not only music, but any other art it’s been under attack over the years by Mexican government and their supporters (television, radio, newspapers, etc) This is really sad but since art doesn’t make money as commerce do, you may erase it.

  2. 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.

  3. Sarah Perez

    My name is Sarah Perez and I am an alumna from the Virgil Class of 2003. I graduated from Belmont High School and I am currently working on an Associate of Arts degree at Pasadena City College. Next fall I plan to transfer to a university to further my education.

    I am very upset to hear that the music program at Virgil has come to an end! What Mr. Kodani has done to the program makes no sense to me. Why did he wait until THE DAY BEFORE THE SEMESTER ENDED to tell Miss Quan of his decision? I never saw Mr. Kodani at one of the Alumni Orchestra rehearsals or at the concerts performed this past school year. So how would he know how successful the program was?

    My experience with music has been like no other. Miss Quan always pushes me to do more. When I was a student at Virgil, I was very quiet and very shy and that is how I played my trumpet. Miss Quan made me realize the passion I had for the trumpet when she moved me to French horn. That’s when I started to work harder. She introduced me to many opportunities that I would have never experienced on my own. Before leaving middle school to go to high school, I won a scholarship that gave me lessons with Darren Mulder at the Colburn School of Performing Arts. When I returned to join the Alumni Orchestra, I realized how much I have grown as a musician because of what I learned at Virgil. Miss Quan is a phenomenal teacher. She doesn’t just show us how to play our instruments. She teaches music history and music theory, she offers opportunities to watch professional musicians in rehearsals and concerts, and she even goes out of her way to help outside of music! She introduced me to reading for fun and I’m glad she did.

    Mr. Kodani, you have no idea what you have lost. What teachers or professors do you know that would stay after school hours to just play music or help students with homework AFTER they have clocked out? Not many people would do what Miss Quan or what the alumni do for those students. I can’t explain what joy it brings me to see the students’ faces when I play. I’m no professional, but I know enough to help another student improve. I’m glad I had the opportunity to help others and I don’t want to stop now. Nor do the other alumni, or else they wouldn’t be writing these letters.

  4. Denise Quan

    Please also see Julio Sequeira’s comment to “An open letter to Principal Kodani.”

  5. 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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