The American Choral Director’s Association national convention took place in Oklahoma City, Okla., from March 4-7, 2009, transforming this quiet Midwest city into a haven for vocal music teachers replete with a bustling exhibit hall, on-site clinics, workshops, and outstanding performances. Teachers, performers, choral enthusiasts, and choral music industry insiders came from across the globe to see the latest goings-on in the choral music world.
By most accounts, it was a great show, even under the dark cloud of the country’s continuing economic uncertainty. Indeed, the possible effects of the nation’s financial woes on the budgets of school choral programs seemed to be weighing heavily on many attendees.
In order to shed some light on the realities that many music teachers are facing, Choral Director conducted an informal survey of educators on the exhibit hall floor to see how their programs were holding up. The tenor among those we spoke with was decidedly mixed: while many directors acknowledged that their departments were facing budget problems, most expressed guarded optimism about the future of their programs.
“My budget has been cut. Next year, we will probably lose an elementary music teacher, a position that will not be replaced. There is a possibility of moving a lot of other music educators in the district around, adding more to each of our daily jobs. I know that the band director had an extended job contract that was recently discontinued. That’s kind of where we stand right now. It’s not too rosy, but we will keep doing what we have to do. I live in that area and have been working in the district for 29 years, so I’m just going to stay. You’ve got no choice but to continue to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and continue to do the best you can.”
Paola High School
“At this point in time, we’ve had no freezing. Our administrators have told us that right now they are taking every budget request one-by-one and that we shouldn’t buy anything without their approval. I’m very lucky to be in a school music department where we just won a state award for being one of the most outstanding music departments in Iowa. We have a brand new booster organization. We had band and orchestra boosters before, but this is the first year we’ve included the choir in that organization. We have fantastic staff, and I think the community and the administration realize what we have going for us. So at this point in time, we are very lucky in that we haven’t seen any cuts due to the down economy.”
Decorah Middle School
“There have been cuts at my school. We’ve started doing before and after-school choirs to get the children into the choir room. I had an administrator tell me that I had to have 24.5 students in my class to justify its existence, so to get that much of a response, we’ve had to do a lot before and after-school activities. This is all new this semester. We were just told that the school was not going to receive $3 million that we were expecting. “Lights are half out at the school. We have to turn off all lights and computers and televisions when not in use. The school is seriously cutting back#149; At least my kids are still interested in music. And it’s my job to keep that interest high.”
Desert Ridge High School
“Possibly travel will be affected, but my budgets are about the same. My district is in serious trouble, but my budget was so little to begin with that they really haven’t cut anything else in my program. We maintain our funding through fundraisers. We sell lollipops, and they sell very well. They only cost 50 cents each, and we get 35 cents of profit, so we’ve done fine with our kids.
JA Fair High School
Little Rock, Ark.
“We’re doing okay at my school. You have to always keep fighting the good fight all the time. We work hard at trying to build connections with people that are going to advocate for the program with people in town, the Arts Alliance, parents and parent groups so that the program can stay healthy for the kids. Where we see a difference is that we need to be fundraising more to help the families of our students pay for their kids to go on trips or pay for audition fees and that sort of thing.
“I’m trying to advocate and raise funds, and I’m getting a keener awareness in these economic times that more kids and more families are going to need help to buy that tuxedo shirt or to go to a regional audition or whatever. We’ve just got to continue to provide those opportunities.”
Roxbury High School
“Honestly, my district is struggling. I was originally granted professional leave to come to this convention, and then they did a big budget cut not long ago where they took away our professional leave, so I had to use all my sick days to be able to come here. I started this year with a budget of $48. Yes, I would say we’re hurting. In fact, I’ve already given my notice. I’ll be moving up to a different district next year one with a little more prosperity for the Arts.
Houston Middle School
“Our budget has been frozen. Some of the money we planned on having was no longer available. The budget cuts, the economic crisis, I think it’ll last at least three to four years and the effects will be more far-reaching than we realize. There’s a hiring freeze in effect at this time, and that is going to take its toll for several years down the line: class sizes are going to be larger because we won’t have additional funds to hire more teachers because they don’t have the funds to fund additional programs, and those of us that are already in there are going to get burnt out faster, with bigger teaching loads, and less resources.
“When you’re first starting out building a program, like we are, the other challenge right now is finding alternative funding. Companies like Intel, which used to be so generous our performing center is called the “Intel Center for the Performing Arts” are now more reluctant to contribute funds. But that’s the only way to make it work in public education: you have to find that outside funding.”
Volcano Vista High School
“Our school is going through a $70 million renovation, and the music department is the first thing on the list. Okay, 1A#149; first order of business is the football field, but we were second! We have a brand new wing, a brand new band room, beautiful practice rooms and lots of storage space. We’re very supported. When I started there 13 years ago, I had 37 kids in one choir. Now I have four during the day and two extracurricular ensembles. We were really allowed to let the program grow.”
Riverside Brookfield Township High School
“I’ve been limited, personally, in terms of what I can do with my students for things like tours, trips, and we’ve had to do a lot more fundraising. In terms of in-school activities, my budget has been cut tremendously and we’ve been warned that more cuts are coming.”
Pacific High School