It's no secret that scientific research has proven that exposure to classical music is inextricably linked to improved test scores, discipline, time management, and problem-solving skills. The nation-wide craze over the Mozart Effect a few years back is but one example of how receptive the public is to the power of music, but the results of this study (25 years in the making) barely graze the surface of what researchers could discover about the benefits of music in the years to come. And, according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2003, few Americans will dispute the need for music education in schools. In fact, 95% of participants said that music is a key component to a well-rounded education, and more than 75% feel that music education should be mandatory.
The announcement of these proposed budget cuts leaves many directors feeling overwhelmed and helpless, and some think the only thing left to do is to step back and fervently hope for a favorable outcome. However, there are many ways that directors, students, and parents can raise public awareness and convince school boards that their music program is not only important, but necessary. Countless numbers of people either played in a band or sang in a choir while they were in school and are often outraged to learn that these programs may no longer be available for students, but many do not realize the extent of these budget cuts until after they have already taken effect. Those directly affected by these changes should take it upon themselves to voice their objections, stress the importance of the program's survival, and fight to keep music in schools.
In most communities, the general public is exposed to the marching and pep bands more frequently than the concert band, but having people hear the band perform (in any context) and see just how many students enjoy taking part in the ensembles is the most effective tool of persuasion that directors have at their disposal. Something as simple as carrying signs or banners during a parade that say, for example, ASave our Band! Vote No on Referendum #140" or dressing the pep band in t-shirts or sandwich boards with similar pleas raises additional awareness and gets people talking about the issue at hand. Arranging a benefit concert at a local shopping mall or a plaza in the middle of a busy business district during lunch hours is another way to attract attention. Band parents or students could set up a table to take donations and explain their problems with the budget proposal to anyone who is willing to listen.
Encourage students to write letters to the state's Congressional representatives that explain why playing in the band is important to them, perhaps as an extra-credit project. Student testimonials are among the most powerful objections to launch in this campaign, and help dispel the myth that teenagers are apathetic and indifferent. Former students who continue to be active in the music community, or performing artists who went through the public school system also make great speakers at school board meetings, and can tout the virtues of school music programs from yet another angle. Directors could also solicit aid from music fraternities at a local university, which would gladly help raise money and awareness for area band programs, collect and donate music and instruments, or even work with younger students to organize a larger fund-raising or advocacy event.
The media can also be a powerful ally; newspapers and television stations are usually more than willing to send reporters out to cover the story, which often prompts school boards to take some sort of action to avoid the negative publicity. This is an effective way to reach large numbers of people; just stick to the facts and avoid perpetuating any rumors to prevent accusations of libel or slander. NAMM, Sesame Workshop, MENC, and VH1 Save the Music (a non-profit organization that purchases new instruments for music education programs that have been cut and saves others from elimination) have joined forces to make a series of 30- and 60- second Public Service Announcements from famous artists (and the occasional Muppet) that are available for local radio stations to use, and it doesn't hurt to mention when pitching this idea to station representatives that broadcasting messages such as these counts toward their community service obligations.
For a more organized effort, work with any interested parents and students to start a music advocacy movement in the community. Active band parents are more than willing to spearhead such a task, and organizations such as the American Music Conference (www.amc-music.com), the Music Education Coalition(www.SupportMusic.com), the Music for All Foundation (www.music-for-all.org ), and MENC- the National Association for Music Education (www.menc.org ) have information on starting a music advocacy group, articles on budget cuts, links to other music education sites, and lists of various facts and statistics from polls and research studies that can be used when presenting a case to the school board. Group activities could include an outreach event for elementary school students, presentations at school board meetings, or representing instrumental music at an Arts Advocacy Day at the state or national level.
Regardless of whether your school's program is in the red or going strong, an increased presence in the community in addition to collaborative efforts from parents and students to promote the band will forge relationships with local businesses and community leaders and garner support from the general public. That way, when a budget proposal comes along that slashes music funding, the network of support will already be in place, which makes the argument to keep music in schools that much stronger.