Vancouver students stage silent orchestra to protest budget cuts to music programs

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      More than 150 students and parents showed up at 4 p.m. outside the Vancouver School Board office today (June 7) to protest the elimination of elementary band and strings programs.

      The student-led initiative, titled “Save Our Music”, saw music students standing in silence, holding their instruments and various signs that read, “I’d rather play”.

      Tammy Kwan

      “It’s more than just an optional arts program,” Bianca Chui, a Grade 11 band student from Sir Winston Churchill Secondary, told the Straight. “It’s something that enriches all of our lives, and I think that it’ll be really sad if elementary students no longer have the opportunity to learn or play an instrument.”

      Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) conductor Bramwell Tovey was also present at the demonstration, and spoke to the large group of music students.

      Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) conductor Bramwell Tovey.
      Tammy Kwan

      “I want to apologize to you for all the grownups who make funding decisions. The grownups have failed you,” Tovey said into a megaphone. “We need to have grownups that say music must be part of the school curriculum.”

      The strings and band program operates in 44 Vancouver schools. It is estimated that cutting it would save the district just under $400,000 per year.

      In 2015, the yearly fee to participate in the band program was upped from $25 to $50 in an effort to make the continuation of the program more feasible.

      However, VSB chair Mike Lombardi said in March that senior management proposals called for the elimination of the program unless the provincial government provided the VSB with additional funding. 

      One of the students at the protest expressed his passion for the program.

      “We’re depriving kids of an opportunity that they have had under the Vancouver public school system since it was instated,” said Xiaoyu Huang, a member of Sir Winston Churchill Secondary’s music council.

      “The impact on kids who have been in a program, and are now removed from it, is especially devastating because it’s an interest that can blossom into something for the rest of their lives,” he added.

      Christin Reardon MacLellan, President of the Coalition for Music Education in B.C.
      Tammy Kwan

      Christin Reardon MacLellan, president of the Coalition for Music Education in B.C., told the Straight that the idea of the “silent orchestra” came from a group of enthusiastic music students on the Sir Winton Churchill Music Council—a group that supports music in schools and collaborates with other student music councils across the city.

      The band and strings programs are dubbed an “optional” program, but MacLellan believes that the issue goes beyond being able to play an instrument at a public school.

      “That’s where the biggest problem lies—you cut an 'optional' program, but you deny 2,000 students of music specialist teachers,” said MacLellan, who is also conductor of UBC Concert Winds. “Until they put an elementary music specialist in every single school, they can’t possibly be cutting a program that is the only access to specialists for so many students.”

      Xiaoyu Huang and Bianca Chui, members of the Sir Winston Churchill Secondary Music Council.
      Tammy Kwan
      Tammy Kwan
      Tammy Kwan
      Parents walking along the block for the demonstration.
      Tammy Kwan