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Tahlequah Middle School sixth-grader Emily Woodard practices playing “Old Time Rock-n-Roll” for the All-Star Elementary School Band concert. Photo by Teddye Snell

At 10 a.m. yesterday morning, the Tahlequah High School Performing Arts Center and both band rooms were filled with the sound of toots, tweets and thumps of instruments.

In what many would deem a controlled chaos environment, over 500 fifth- and sixth-graders from all over northeast Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas took part in Tahlequah Public Schools’ seventh annual All-Star Elementary School Band clinic and concert.

Among the participating schools were Grand View, Stilwell, Roland, Wagoner, Farmington (Ark.), Checotah, Muldrow and Victory Christian.

While budget constraints may be forcing some schools to eye cuts to music programs due to budget constraints, it only took one look at Tuesday’s turnout to realize band programs are alive and thriving in this area.

March has been official designated by The National Association for Music Education for the observance of Music in Our Schools Month. This is the time of year when music education becomes the focus of schools across the nation, and Tahlequah is no different.

According to Band Director Harvey Price, Tahlequah Public Schools has hosted four music events at the PAC since January.

“For this event, we have 24 schools and over 500 kids,” said Price. “This is the seventh year to offer this program, and we have five clinicians from different schools who have volunteered their time to come in and work with students in all instrument areas.”

Instrumental and vocal music classes are often referred to as extra-curricular activities; however, studies have shown music classes offer many benefits that make them indispensable.

According to Children’s Music Workshop, researchers in Hamilton, Ohio, documented that students participating in a music program scored higher on the reading, mathematics and citizenship portions of the Ohio Proficiency Test than their non-musical peers.

The study paired music and non-music students based on their verbal Cognitive Abilities Test. Four groups of string students  were released two times a week for instruction. Two of those four groups scored significantly higher on the reading and mathematics portion of the test than their non-musical peers. Additionally, 68 percent of string students scored at grade level or higher on all four sections of the test, compared to 58 percent of the non-music students.

Muldrow School band director Bob Kilgore, has taught in music programs in both Arkansas and Oklahoma for over 39 years, and agrees music is vital to students’ academic success.

“It’s just obvious,” said Kilgore. “The test scores show music helps students with math and English. I read an article about how they took the music programs out of schools in New York, and test scores plummeted. When they reinstated the music programs, test scores improved.”

Kilgore said schools districts also benefit by offering music programs.

“If a school district has a strong band program, it often pulls in better students,” said Kilgore. “A lot of kids, if they stick with a band program, will end up getting scholarships for college. Usually, band students are achievers who want to make good grades. Plus, with all the competitions they’re involved in, it just makes them better students.”

Muldrow sixth-grader Mikayla Chandler, a clarinet player, said this is her first experience with the All-Star Band.

“I just started playing the clarinet this year,” said Mikayla. “I’m very excited, and this is my first band trip. I love music, because, first, it can help you go to [college], and second, it’s fun! I get to meet new people and make new friends.”

Tahlequah Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Shannon Goodsell believes the district has a great program.

“The recognition and awards of Tahlequah’ music programs speak for themselves,” said Goodsell. “We have outstanding students who are taught by amazing directors. The district also has a rich history of professional music directors who have dedicated themselves to the joy of music and the joy of teaching.”

Goodsell said the goal of the TPS music department is to deeply root the foundation of the programs into the fabric of the community, and move forward to expand greater opportunities for students. He indicated arts programs here are no longer an elective, and so face no danger of being reduced.

“They are core classes for graduation,” he said. “Programs such as band, choir, drama and art are no different than the core subjects of English or algebra when building the master schedule.”

Goodsell said booster clubs and volunteers are a big part of what make any school program successful.

“Without a doubt, booster clubs are the life blood of any successful program,” he said. “Simply stated, school districts do not have the necessary dollars to fund all aspects of every program. Booster clubs help to put the finishing touches on a program and make it shine. They ensure the success and longevity of their programs for students.”

Price said he appreciates all the community support the program has received over the years.

“It’s just so nice that the public passed the bond issue to fund building a facility like [the PAC] so we can host these events,” said Price.

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