Fostering music programs in schools has always been difficult. Imagine being a middle school orchestra teacher on the first day of school with 30-50 kids in your class: Some of them brought instruments they’ve been playing for eight years while others don’t know how to open the case on their newly rented trumpet. Some can read music like a book, and others aren’t sure which way is right-side up. If that’s not scary enough, imagine having to get all those kids to play together in a concert a few months away in front of their family and friends — and your colleagues — and have the sound be discernible…or at least tolerable.
Sound daunting? Well, now imagine that you, as the music teacher, have to do that for multiple schools because your full-time job isn’t full time at any one school — it’s full time across multiple schools.
That’s what we’re asking of our music teachers in Boulder Valley School District right now. Yes, some schools are still fortunate enough to have designated instructors that don’t have to travel between different schools but, even so, these teachers are faced with the reality of teaching students who are beginners while keeping advanced students engaged.
If you attend a school with an affluent family base, parent booster groups are likely helping with time and money to bring in extra help — but it’s still a challenge to create a somewhat level playing field for the students. However, if you attend a school that is not wealthy, where parents don’t have time to volunteer nor extra money to contribute, a different type of learning gap and lack of equity becomes apparent.
That’s where nonprofit organizations like the one I founded, Parlando School of Musical Arts, are stepping up. We understand that not all students find their “team” on the field or court — some find it on the stage. And regardless of whether it’s a football or band uniform, the lifelong lessons of camaraderie, communication, teamwork, and problem-solving are the same. We believe kids need as many opportunities to find their “team” as possible.
During the 2022-’23 academic year, Parlando partnered with 29 schools across four school districts to provide more than 3,000 music classes with supplementary support, resulting in over 90,000 student interactions. And we did this all at no charge to the students, schools, or districts. Parlando uses fundraised dollars from donors as well as granting agencies like the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) and Boulder Arts Commission (an agency of Boulder City Council) to pay our instructors to go into public school music classrooms and provide needed support.
Schools are identified by music-arts coordinators in each district. Parlando listens to the needs of the music teachers within those schools, then provides what they tell us they need for multiple days each week over the course of the entire school year.
Music remains one of those skills for which there is no shortcut: You get out of music exactly what you put into it. And, while that may be frustrating in our instant-gratification, one-click society, it is also a lesson that will benefit students throughout their lives. Through practice comes mastery, and through mastery comes self-esteem. Just like the top scorer on a school’s basketball team is undoubtedly a hard worker, students who excel in music are as well. These are valuable lessons that will last a lifetime.
This all sounds good — but what about the quantitative results? Last year partner schools reported that students involved in their music programs:
Were 20% more likely to
Had a full letter grade higher
GPA than their peers (3.0-3.5
versus 2.0-3.0); and
Were 24% more likely to
That’s right: If you are involved in your school music program you are more likely to attend school, get better grades while you’re there, and are more likely to graduate. So why are arts programs the first things on the chopping block when money is tight and the last things to get funded when money returns?
This fall, Boulder residents will have the opportunity to vote to extend an existing sales tax that will, in part, provide additional funding for the arts. This sales tax will also provide general funds to the City and, when you combine that with the library district funding that will be available to the city of Boulder, there will still be additional funding to invest in other issues. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that is truly win-win.
Some of the arts funding mentioned above will be used to support organizations like Parlando which are, quite frankly, covering the funding gaps created by decades of underfunding for school music programs — despite the fact that involvement in those very programs correlates with higher academic achievement.
Boulder is a wonderful place to experience the arts as an audience member. Let’s make it a little easier to be an arts educator and performer as well. Our kids deserve it.
Travis LaBerge is the founder and executive director of Parlando School of Musical Arts, an outreach and education provider with a faculty of nearly 70 teachers, 600 students and 7,000 monthly outreach recipients.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.