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Friday, May 9, 2003 02:30 pm

Stop the music?

When Ken Duffy took over Walko Music Co. in 1980, the store had been renting band instruments to Springfield schools for 25 years. But last semester Duffy saw a "25 percent" drop in his rental business. The decline will become even more drastic if District 186 continues to cut funds to band programs.

That outrages Ralph Sordyl, owner of House of Music. While his business has also felt the pinch, he says the community will suffer more.

"Did you know Springfield is one of two capitals in the country that doesn't have a string or orchestra program?" he asks. "They have a string program in Decatur, Peoria, Jacksonville, and Taylorville. People moving into the area are shocked we don't have an orchestra program--they don't expect small schools to have them, but they expect Springfield to have one. I feel guilty I haven't done more about the situation."

A group of parents has decided to take action, banding together to form the group Save the Bands. "There has been a 55 percent reduction in staff allocations for band programs this year, and all the fifth grade beginning band programs were cut," says Theresa Grimaldi Olsen, chairman of Save the Bands. "These are disproportionate cuts compared to other programs, threatening the future of school bands. Instrumental music is an academic program--kids get a grade. Band is a co-curricular program, not an extra-curricular program."

Olsen says Springfield schools have had music programs since the 1930s, including an orchestra program. She says there are currently 837 active students, but that number is significantly lower than in prior years. In the 2001-2002 school year 400 students received beginning band instruction--an option that wasn't offered this year.

If beginning instruction isn't offered again, Olsen says, current band programs will dwindle, and in three years there will be no junior high bands. In seven years there will be no high school bands.

Save the Bands holds that the district can't just pull the plug on students in the middle of their musical educations--if programs are to be cut, someone needs to figure out how to go about it.

"We believe that this is an administrative duty," she says. "We can't tell the school district what to do. If there isn't going to be any beginning instruction until the sixth grade, some planning needs to be made on how to incorporate that."

Students can always go to a place like Walko for private instruction, but Olsen says private lessons provided by parents shouldn't be viewed as a solution because lower-income families can't afford the expense. Interestingly, band, which used to start in the third and fourth grades, is still offered in the district's magnet schools.

"Our goal is to make sure that students who want to participate in music education have that opportunity," Olsen says. "There has been so much scientific data about how music helps with math and logical thinking and how kids academically do so much better once they are exposed to music."

With no plans to incorporate a beginning program at the junior high level, the future looks bleak for the district's band programs.

"Next year they are going to have a problem," Olsen says. "We need help and anyone can join our effort.

"No one wants to make cuts. Unfortunately they are in a very tight situation. Choices need to be made and we just wanted to inform them that we are out there and we are watching."

Save the Bands doesn't meet regularly, but people interested in joining the organization can e-mail Olsen at savethebands@aol.com. Olsen says the group now has members from all three high schools, several middle schools, and a handful of elementary schools.

Next Thursday, March 20,at 7 p.m. the All City Music concert will take place at Southeast High School. Save the Band representatives will be in attendance, and Olsen says it will be a perfect opportunity for "people to see what our bands have been doing."

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