Delivered to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
April 5, 2000
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
12000 Government Center Parkway
Fairfax, VA 22035
To the Board of Supervisors:
It has come to my attention that several music programs in the Fairfax County Schools are possibly going to be cutback. These include fourth grade string instruction and field trips to fine arts institutions and performances, including National Symphony Young People's Concerts.
It is my understanding that all of you are in a position to stop this from occurring. The importance of music education in the lives of our children has been demonstrated time and time again. Recent studies show a direct correlation between music study at an early age, and increased scores on SAT tests later in that person's life.
Although I came from a family of musicians, and music was an everyday occurrence in our house, most of my friends did not. I am certain that many of you can remember times spent sharing musical experiences with your parents. Many of you may have had a first class music program in your own schools when you were young. These early encounters with the creative arts have never been forgotten by my grade school friends. They have probably not been forgotten by many of you.
While I was growing up in Los Angeles, the public education system was fully functional, with strong arts programs in every school. For myself and my classmates it might have been singing three days a week, orchestra or band practice, or instrumental studies. It was a great time to be a kid in the fifties.
Times have changed. Attitudes have altered. We sometimes have forgotten the impact a positive creative force can make on our lives. Just one teacher, one musical moment, can be frozen in our memories to be awakened at some later point. Music teaches us about history and gives us a chance to reflect on what is good in the world.
When Mrs. Otto, my fourth grade music teacher, walked in the room, all of the pressures of early academic life were put into an entirely different perspective. I played the autoharp in those days. My friends played maracas, bells, drums, almost anything that could make a sound. We could imagine ourselves to be the best band in the world. Maybe we were.
Two or three times a year our school would get in busses and travel downtown to Philharmonic Auditorium. It wasn't the most elegant building, but for us it was a palace. There were 70 or so musicians on the stage, a conductor and a man explaining all about the music we were going to hear. Can you imagine 2000 youngsters listening in silence and with rapt attention to the masterpieces that formed the core of the orchestral literature? We came out of those concerts uplifted, not to mention missing a couple classes of school.
None of my friends went on to careers in music. Some are accountants, others scientists, even one politician that I know of. Whenever I return to Los Angeles to conduct, inevitably one of those class members comes backstage. After learning of what we are all doing now, we always talk about how wonderful it was to have shared those early musical experiences together. They all speak of what they are trying to pass along to their children, things that the schools no longer
provide. They worry about what effect the lack of artistic teaching will have on their offspring.
I urge you not to let that happen here. Fairfax County has always been in the forefront of educational awareness in the arts. I am constantly impressed by all that is going on here. It is my pleasure to work annually with the American Youth Philharmonic and to witness first hand the excellent programs that have developed.
The importance of the initiative under consideration cannot be overemphasized. There are some things that go far beyond the issues of budget. The musical arts need to be part of every young person's curriculum. The programs that all of you are looking at need to remain in place. The
growth of our young people depends on decisions you are about to make. Keep that growth and spirit alive. Please do not take the music away from the children.