Don't cancel elementary music
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A few weeks ago the 18 elementary school instrumental music teachers in the Granite School District were assembled in a room and informed by district leaders that the renowned elementary music program they had worked so hard to foster will be terminated, and that their jobs as full-time instrumental music teachers would be terminated as well.

This comes despite news reports and Granite School District's Facebook postings to the contrary. As we all remember, only a highly effective grass-roots effort prevented this from occurring three years ago.

Now it seems the district is working in a far more subversive way, warning these teachers that this is a done deal. The teachers have been assured by district officials that every effort will be made to retain them and place them in jobs within the district. This seems unlikely, due the highly specialized nature of their training. It seems so misguided — now of all times — when study after study is showing the powerful effects of studying a musical instrument early, and how these positive effects last a lifetime.

As usual, it will be the lowest-income children who will lose out on this tremendously important option. This is close to my heart because I was a student whose elementary music teacher forever changed my life.

In the 1960s the Los Angeles City Schools offered instrumental music in the third grade. I waited for that moment when I could pick my trumpet, wanting desperately to emulate my favorite performer, Herb Alpert with his Tijuana Brass.

Claiming to be out of trumpets, my instrumental music teacher sent me home with a trombone, and it shaped my life, just as that elementary instrumental program did for both of my brothers and so many of my friends. My family was in no position to pay for this vital component of our education, and I have always felt fortunate and grateful for this.

Two years ago, the teacher who started me on the trombone attended a concert I performed in Los Angeles. Afterward, we reminisced about that time, and how things are changing, certainly not for the better in the area of music education.

Granite officials say they will be expanding the music appreciation program, and it will now be taught in our busy classrooms.

Music appreciation is not a substitute for an instrumental music program. The district has stated its intention to offer instrumental music as an after- or before-school option, though they have not explained the details.

Unfortunately, past experience indicates this will fail. It's very difficult to keep these part-time hourly teaching positions filled, especially with qualified music teachers. It will also put the music program in direct competition with church activities, soccer and the endless extracurricular activities that both parents and students balance, not to mention the effect this will have on middle and high school instrumental music programs. The students are the losers.

I hope the Granite District leadership will reconsider this decision and take into account the long-term consequences for the entire community.

Larry Zalkind plays principal trombone in the Utah Symphony and is an adjunct professor at the University of Utah.