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Working in Harmony: Do Your Part for Music in Schools

January 3, 2020

Guest blog: NAfME guide to supporting education

Our allies in the professional music world know Barbershoppers value lifelong singing. Their tips for how your visible presence in the community can assure a solid foundation in music for all students.

The Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) is a wonderful ally to National Association for Music Education (NAfME). Through combined efforts at NAfME Hill Day, our organizations and others have helped increase congressional support for music education. But when you ask any music teacher what their most urgent challenges are, action on Capitol Hill isn’t likely to top the list.

Addressing music educators’ most pressing needs requires advocacy at the local level; thus, NAfME developed the Local Advocacy Action Plan. This resource provides a template for music teachers to plan advocacy efforts.

Below are some ways BHS members can support school music educators. As you begin this work, reach out to local music educators to see how you can join them in their existing efforts.

Attend a school board meeting

School boards have a broad authority to determine priorities as they relate to personnel, funding, and curricula. In your role as a citizen advocate, attendance at school board meetings is an effective way to support music education. Attending school board meetings ensures you are “in the loop” about decisions affecting your community and its schools, allowing you to connect with other stakeholders sharing your passion for supporting educational opportunities.

Even if you aren’t personally able to make it to every session, keep an eye on the business of the board. Official meeting minutes and district budgets are usually publicly available through the school district’s website and can provide information on the issues at hand, as well as offer insight into the leaders’ priorities as shown by their allocation of financial resources.

Your presence and participation communicate an important message to school board members. By showing up, asking questions, and reminding the board of the public’s support for music, you communicate that you are holding them responsible for providing a well-rounded education to all students in their care. When educators, Barbershoppers, and other community members attend board meetings to advocate for the same policies, our voices ring louder and are more likely to be heard.

Volunteer with a local booster organization

Bands, orchestras, choirs, etc. rely on support from parents and the community. Booster organizations are typically run by parents of students in the ensembles and support programs in many ways, including fundraising, chaperoning, and logistical support. Booster groups are always in need of volunteers.

It is helpful for booster organizations to have a diverse set of folks who provide a fuller perspective. You may have expertise valuable to the organization, whether it be in finance, communications, or feeding three hundred people on a budget. You may also have contacts through your network who can offer donations or public support for local advocacy campaigns.

At the elementary level, Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs) may support music programming as part of their schoolwide efforts. Volunteering with the PTO is a great way to get involved. Barbershoppers can also reach out to elementary teachers and offer to showcase the artform to students.

Host a fundraiser to support students’ participation in music

Despite persistent anxiety about arts programs being cut, over 90% of elementary and secondary schools offer opportunities to learn music. However, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds are less likely than their white and affluent peers to attend schools offering music. Where music programs do exist, costs often prevent students from participating, resulting in students of color and students from low-income families being significantly underrepresented in music classes.

You can make a difference by funding efforts that support opportunities for all students to participate in music. There are many hidden costs associated with music, including ensemble member fees, uniform rentals/cleanings, travel expenses, and participation fees in adjudicated performances. Instrumentalists must purchase or rent instrument, and students seeking more intensive study need private lessons and access to summer music camps.

Music educators do their best to address these needs. Sometimes, they keep extra instruments on hand, provide lessons on their own time at little or no cost, or offer scholarships for travel or private study. These efforts often rely on fundraising, so outside support is crucial. If your chorus chapter could host a fundraiser specifically aimed at supporting equitable opportunities to learn music, this would generate financial and community support.

Like NAfME, the BHS comprises passionate musicians who know firsthand the ways music acts as a foundational element in our lives. That makes you uniquely positioned to “give back” to music programs by offering support. Please reach out to your local music educators to see how you and other Barbershoppers can support young musicians in the early stages of lifelong music-making.

-- NAfME Public Policy and Professional Development Staff