September 15, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Music students at Hartford's Bulkeley High School will be tuning up their instruments for the last time today.
Barely a week into the new semester, the school abruptly called an end to most of its music classes, shutting down choral and instrumental programs because of declining student interest and scheduling difficulties, officials said Thursday.
The students were expected to have their final practice sessions today before turning in their band instruments and filling in schedules with other courses, said Roger Farnsworth, the school's lone music teacher.
"Of all the places I've taught, these kids seem to have a need and are getting less than in any schools I've ever taught in," said Farnsworth, who came out of retirement to teach in Hartford after a long career in Massachusetts schools, where he led bands that appeared at the Rose Bowl and other national events.
"I'm sorry for them."
Although administrators cited diminishing interest, some students apparently were unable to fit music courses into their schedules because they were required to take additional classes to catch up in subjects such as reading and mathematics, Farnsworth said.
The only remaining music class will be a drumming course for about a dozen students, but all other music classes will be shut down at least for the remainder of the school year.
"I felt very sad," said Harold Ortiz, an 18-year-old senior who plays flute, piano and drums and has been part of the school band since his freshman year. "It meant a lot of things to me. Here's where I found my first talent, the only place where I can shine."
Bulkeley is the only city high school to virtually eliminate music classes, but educators are monitoring dwindling music enrollments at Hartford's two other large public secondary schools, said June Bernabucci, who supervises art and music programs for the city's schools.
"Weaver and Hartford Public are really limping along" in music, Bernabucci said. Many music students, she said, are choosing instead to enroll in public magnet schools and specialty programs such as those at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts.
Across the nation, educators worry that the combination of financial pressures and the testing movement's growing emphasis on reading and mathematics has made other subjects, such as music and art, vulnerable.
A national sampling of school districts last year by the Center on Education Policy in Washington found that about 20 percent had reduced time spent on arts and music to make more time for reading and math.
Michael Blakeslee, an official with the National Association for Music Education, said he has heard anecdotal reports of public schools cutting back on music, but he did not have specific statistics. He said it is discouraging to hear about a school such as Bulkeley, with 1,500 students, eliminating music.
"Only one music teacher in the whole school? That's really disturbing," he said.
Dollie McLean, executive director of the Artists Collective, where many young Hartford-area musicians have been trained, also found the news discouraging.
"I just think it's awful," said McLean, widow of the late saxophone great Jackie McLean. "I think young people in the city already are being cheated by an inferior education. ... They're not being inspired and not being exposed to music."
She said the programs should be preserved even if only a handful of students sign up. "They need to keep it in their curriculum, even if it's only 10 [students]," she said.
Scott Shuler, a former arts consultant for the state Department of Education, said he knew of only one case - in Ansonia more than a decade ago - in which a high school dropped all of its music programs. The school started new music programs after parents filed a complaint and the state investigated, he said.
Under state law, public school districts are required to offer arts programs, including music, said Shuler, now an assistant school superintendent in Simsbury.
At Bulkeley, officials will seek a part-time instructor for the drumming course while Farnsworth is reassigned to another school, said Miriam M. Taylor, Bulkeley's principal. Farnsworth had fewer than 40 students in five classes - too few to justify continuing the music program, she said.
"We need to use the resources in other areas, like language," Taylor said. "I'm not saying music is not important ... but we want to have a program that has substance."
Taylor said Bulkeley hopes to restore a full music program someday, but for now, officials will focus on developing an interest among younger students, including those at Burr School, where Farnsworth has been reassigned.
Farnsworth, who had been starting his second year at Bulkeley, said despite the small numbers, there was growing interest at the high school.
"There was a lot of enthusiasm among the small group," he said. "Each day it seems there would be a new kid coming in."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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