After rebuilding, QHS music program at a crossroads
Chris Sherman knows the score.
Music teacher at Quincy High School, he knows how things were in the band program five, 10, 15 years ago and beyond.
“Quincy really used to be known as a music giant,” he said. “I lived in the music world in the Puget Sound area where everyone knew what was going on everywhere, and Quincy was really well respected in the Puget Sound area for quite a while.”
The reputation was such that when Sherman arrived in Quincy and found a program not hitting all the right notes, his friends in Seattle still thought he had moved to work at a powerhouse.
The reality, though, was different. Sherman points the finger at some erstwhile administrators who, in his words, “messed up the music program” from top to bottom.
“Everything feeds from the grade school into the higher grades, so if you do (things) to the grade-school program that severely affect it, you are doing things that affect the whole program.”
The missteps included, he said, hiring a special-ed teacher to teach music. Another misstep is having band teachers who also teach choir, or choir teachers who also teach band.
“Not a good idea,” he said. “You don’t want a heart surgeon doing your knee operation.”
Sherman himself teaches choir, but, he said, “I’m a trumpet player, I teach band.”
With both QJHS music teacher Mike Silk and Sherman being specialists in band but teaching band and choir, the moment one of the two retires might be a good time to revisit the assignments, Sherman said.
The band also has seen a share of struggles. This year, the band had two trumpet players. No French horn, no tuba, no trombone. The band still managed to bring home some trophies, despite the fact that both trumpet players wore braces.
“A trumpet player with braces? It’s impossible,” he said. “I don’t know how they did it.” The trumpet mouthpiece presses against the metal on the mouth, and it hurts. One student did it for four years, Sherman added.
Whatever success the band program has achieved during these lean times “is not because of me,” but because of the parents.
“They are starting to raise some real serious money,” he said of the Band Boosters. “I have told them, ‘I am a rotten salesman, but I can give you good music,’ and they said, ‘OK, we expect you to give us good music and we will take care of the rest.’”
The state of other areas’ music programs are unknown to him, he said, but he knows this: Next year, Quincy High School will have no choir program, nor will the junior high, he predicts.
“If Mr. Silk is not getting any kids at the junior high, that means I’m not getting any kids up here,” he said, referring to Silk, who teaches music at QJHS. And if the pipeline is not being fed, the children joining choir or band at the high school have very little training.
“Music is like a foreign language, if you don’t learn it when you’re a kid, it’s a lot harder to do it when you get older,” he said. “So I’m getting a lot of kids who can’t hit a pitch. That’s not the fault of the school district, that’s due to reasons unknown to me.”
“We need to find out what’s going on at the elementary (level) to see if we can fire it back up more solidly at the junior high (level),” he said.”
Getting the programs in harmony again can’t happen overnight
“It would be nice,” he said, “if we could find what the answers are and get choir back up.” At the same time, he knows that as a teacher he’s not privy to all that the school district needs to do to make that happen.
“As a teacher, I can recommend it, but I don’t realize the realities of, ‘If we do that, we have to deal with this, this, this and this.’ I’m just a teacher.”
As a teacher, though, he knows what music can do for children. Students have written letters to him saying band was the one class where they felt accepted – part of a team, part of a family.
“This girl (wrote) that band changed her life,” Sherman said. “She’s a better reader than she was when she entered band and she wrote about how she is going to be more successful because of it when she leaves band.”
He also knows the flip-side of that, if it’s taught wrong. Some schools in Quincy have taught band during recess, for example, he said.
“You don’t do that,” Sherman said. “A kid wants their recess.”
At the same time, a music class cannot be taught for just a semester, he added. It has to be a year-long class.
Lastly, Sherman falls silent for a bit when asked what will happen now. Anything can happen, he ultimately says. It could explode, or it could die out.
“It’s not up to the teachers,” Sherman said. “It’s up to the parents and the administrators. The most powerful tool in a school is not the administrators, it’s not the principals – it’s the parents. If the parents want it to happen, you got a really good chance that it’s going to happen.”
Next week: We talk to parents of children in the music program.
— By Sebastian Moraga, email@example.com