Student musicians heralded a triumphant year of living on the edge with a clashing of cymbals and a flourish of French horns during the recent Christmas musical pageant.
And then they went dashing through the stores to spread a little a capella joy.
The concert featured a demanding array of Christmas music and served to celebrate a slew of awards and honors — and the community support that makes the music program possible at all, said Daria Mason, the one-man band of a music teacher at both the high school and middle school.
The high point for this year came with an invitation to perform next year in Hawaii at the 70th commemoration of the bombing of Pearl Harbor at the memorial to the sunken battleship the Missouri. Mason said the invitation represents a signal honor for the band, although music supporters must now set to work raising the $1,500 per student needed to cover the cost of the trip.
The district’s music program now depends heavily on private donations, including about $7,000 the program gets each year through the Credit For Kids check-off on state income tax returns. People can donate up to $200 to various school programs and receive a direct tax credit when it comes time to pay state income taxes.
“The kids will be out there working all year for the Pearl Harbor trip,” said Mason, who last week directed the high school band, the two high school choruses and the middle school chorus in the annual Christmas pageant at the high school auditorium.
The district maintains an active music program, although it funds only one music teacher position.
The middle school chorus has 58 students, the high school band about 49 students, and the two high school chorus programs about 40 students. The guitar classes draw in another 30 students.
“We’ve had a great year,” said Mason. “It’s just been a wonderful group. I have heard nothing but great comments from the community. It has been growing in quality.”
The district has already cut the music program to the bone, with just one teacher and almost all of the rest of the support for the program coming from private donations. However, the district faces another tough budget year — which has many advocates for the music program worried.
Mason said she hoped that the music program will survive another round of cutbacks. “Nobody has said anything about cutting music. The superintendent is a strong proponent of not cutting strong programs for kids,” she said.
Research suggests that vital arts programs like music can contribute significantly to student achievement. For instance, students who take music performance and appreciation classes score higher on the standardized SAT tests that often determine college admittance — including a 57-61 point advantage on verbal scores and 44-68 points in math.
Another analysis of 25,000 students found that students involved in music programs have significantly higher scores on math through the 12th grade, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The gains held true for minority students and students from low-income homes, as well as students with college educated parents.
Building on the success of the Christmas concert, the high school choir also last week made the rounds to provide a capella Christmas carols.
“We went to seven different businesses — including Bashas’ and Safeway, to spread a little bit of Christmas joy. Every place we went, the cash registers stopped, the customers stopped — and people cheered and listened,” said Mason happily. “We were just amazed.”