BY CAMILLE GAVIN Contributing writer
That the Bakersfield City School District more than doubled the number of student trombonists this year -- adding 148 beginners to the 84 already in place -- is impressive.
And learning the number of instrumental musicians -- not just trombonists -- has increased by 54 percent since 2004 is equally so. Now to top it all off, the BCSD has received a Best Communities for Music Education award for 2013. It is one of only 307 districts nationwide to receive the recognition from the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation.
"In one of the worst economic periods in history, our district has expanded student participation and the numbers continue to climb steadily. So many communities have cut music, but BCSD has not."
-- Michael Stone, district coordinator of visual and performing arts
Michael Stone, district coordinator of visual and performing arts, said this is the first time BCSD has received the award.
"In one of the worst economic periods in history, our district has expanded student participation and the numbers continue to climb steadily," Stone said. "So many communities have cut music, but BCSD has not."
The designation has no cash value, he added, but reflects the continuing support for the program on the part of administrators, faculty and the community as a whole.
In addition to increased enrollment in music studies, Stone said a number of other factors or programs were cited by the selection panel, which was made up of a group of education researchers from the University of Kansas and the NAMM Foundation.
One of those factors was the district's innovative method for encouraging students to play a particular instrument -- a method that resulted in the previously mentioned splurge in trombonists.
"We noticed that fewer students were (choosing to play) trombones," Stone said. "So in October of 2012 we held a 'Trombone Day' at Sequoia Middle School."
It featured Robert Soto, a professional trombonist who teaches at Fullerton College and was sponsored by Nick Rail Music, a Bakersfield music store.
Of course, it takes money to run and maintain a worthwhile instrumental and vocal music program, especially in a district that has 34 elementary and eight junior high or middle schools.
Success in that area, Stone said, is due to the district's budgetary support, which includes the salaries of 22 music-credentialed teachers, as well as an administrator to lead the music program.
A teacher and student in the program have received recognition this year. Nick Olmos was named Elementary Music Specialist of the Year by the California Music Educators Association or CMEA and Nicholas Hernandez, a Compton Junior High string bass player, auditioned for and was accepted into the California All-State Junior High Honor Orchestra.
Rachel Hollis, a former BCSD student, is an example of one type of community support. She organized an online fundraiser called I'm With the Band, or imwiththeband.org.
"Rachel was one of my students when I was teaching at Chipman," Stone said. "Her family helped set this up and it's one of the many things I cherish."
Over the past three years the website has generated more than $60,000 to support the district's music program.
The district owns 3,556 musical instruments, assigned to various school sites and loaned to students who participate in the music program. A majority of the instruments were purchased in 2006 via a $1.7 million state grant.
"The teacher at each school has a document that must be signed by the parents," he said. "It's the responsibility of the parents to pay for an instrument that is lost or stolen."
To encourage participation, students in fourth through sixth grades are introduced to the various instruments during the first two weeks of the school year.
This is done by way of Music in Our Schools Week. The 45-minute program is presented by the district's traveling music teachers -- it's educational and informative with a heavy emphasis on entertainment. In the past six years, the district has held annual "standards festivals," which measure band and orchestra performance and provide clinics to help the groups improve, Stone said. During the festival, each band and orchestra performs for a group of expert judges, who take notes during the performance.
"Afterward, during the clinic portion of the festival, the judges review their notes with the groups and offer ways to address the areas that need improvement," Stone said. "Standards have improved over time and most ensembles earned excellent and superior ratings at this year's festival."
So far this year, two schools, have received top ratings at state and regional festivals this year: College Heights Elementary orchestra and Chipman Junior High choirs.