On April 15, at a Vancouver School Board meeting discussing proposed budget cuts, Roger Cole, principal oboist for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, read a statement on behalf of Maestro Bramwell Tovey, music director for the VSO. The statement is reproduced in full here.
In April 2010 there was a similar public hearing when the Vancouver School Board had proposed eliminating band and strings programs. Extensive public consultation resulted in the proposal to abolish being withdrawn. The VSB were widely praised for this action which was in response to the overwhelming message of support for music in our schools from parents, pupils, the VSO and many other interested parties. The VSB listened and reacted with great leadership and insight.
At that time, I made a submission in person, which I am unable to do tonight as ironically, I am in the UK leading the spring course for the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain, an organization dependent on the music education programs in British schools.
Our 2010 submission contained many details about the value of music in the lives of children. I would refer you to those remarks which were published in the Vancouver Sun and are available online. It is not necessary to repeat why music is so essential a part of a rounded education - but briefly, may I remind everyone present that music is the only language understood by everyone in our wonderfully diverse community of citizens.
Music is the expression of the inner narrative of every child, the common thread of communication to those who participate in a band or orchestra.
Tonight we wish to express the strongest disapproval of the VSB’s latest proposal to eliminate the Elementary band and strings programs. We are extremely sympathetic to the predicament of the Vancouver Schools Board whose budgets must be balanced and whose role is to make difficult decisions, the depth and complexity of which require an understanding and judgment which by its very nature is highly specialist.
We are aware that VSB are encouraging those against the cuts to take up the matter with the provincial government. However, we sincerely believe that there is a particular concern about the elimination of the Elementary and String program that it is only possible for the VSB to solve.
Reinstating an eliminated program is very rare indeed. The teachers’ jobs have gone, the pupils have departed, the instruments have been sold. The whole support infrastructure has to be recreated from scratch, a very expensive undertaking, even when money seems to grow on trees.
Restoring levels of funding to an already existing program at a later date in better circumstances, is a much simpler scenario. It is difficult to believe that if VSB eliminates this program at this moment, a future VSB would welcome the opportunity in better times, to face all the financial issues of recreating it. This is why we are urging the VSB not to eliminate the Elementary band and strings program entirely. It would be impossible to resurrect it at a later date.
If the Elementary program were to be eliminated now, it seems inevitable that at the next VSB budget, high school programs would follow the same fate.
We cannot begin to understand the depth of the issues facing VSB in the many essential areas of public education for which they are responsible. Our only expertise is in music. We have seen the power of music to unite people of widely disparate backgrounds. We have been in the schools, working with the students and teachers with the full support of the VSB under the banner of our program VSO CONNECTS. As VSB knows, as music director, I have been fully involved with this program with the presentation “Meet the Maestro,” conducting school bands and orchestras, meeting with parent/teacher groups, raising money for groups and much else besides.
We are aware that the VSB is urging those against the cuts to speak out against the provincial government. The VSO will pursue its own private channels with the provincial government to communicate our serious concerns about the situation regarding the VSB budget problems. We are a non-partisan arts organization, but when it comes to the education of the children in our community, we realize that as a centre of excellence in performance and education, we have responsibilities.
For the VSO the stakes are much higher in 2014 than in 2010. VSO Connects, which was only in its infancy in 2010, is now a fully fledged program, drawing on several years of success and operating in every school district in the Lower Mainland. In 2011 the VSO School of Music opened its doors, offering additional individual lesson capacity, group learning from infancy, adult classes and a great deal more.
Perhaps most importantly, the VSO is in a community partnership with the extraordinary work going on in the St James Music Academy on the downtown Eastside where opportunities for young people are few and far between. As mentors and partners to SJMA, working with students and ensembles the VSO has renewed its mission to bring music to as many children as possible in our community.
If I might repeat one thing from our 2010 submission it would be this -
The social benefits of music are extraordinary - If a student holds a musical instrument then he or she can’t hold a knife, or a joint, or a needle or a crack pipe – or a gun.
If a student is in a choir or a band or an orchestra, they are communicating through the universal art of music at the heart of our community.
Please support the children who play music as one Grade 8 student said this week, because its something they can do for their entire life.
The VSO recognizes the dilemma facing the VSB, but please, do not take the instruments away from the elementary students.
Submitted with great respect on behalf of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.