Two community groups in Framingham are teaming up to bring a band program back to the elementary schools.
The Performing Arts Center of MetroWest and Centre Music House are working together with the Framingham Public Schools to offer group music lessons to fourth- and fifth-grade students at the district's eight elementary schools. The lessons, which will take place after school for a fee, will begin Jan. 3.
The new program is designed to replace the in-house program cut in the spring, when the district eliminated two band directors and a string instructor to save $116,351.
Discussions about an alternative music program began almost immediately after the cuts were announced, according to Sherry Anderson, executive director of the Performing Arts Center of MetroWest (PAC). "We knew this could possibly be catastrophic for the middle and high school bands," she said. "If you don't have a feeder program [that begins at the elementary school level], the upper-class bands could die off. "
Corbit Larson, owner of the Centre Music House, agreed.
"It's vital to get kids into music at the elementary school level," he said, particularly at the fourth- and fifth-grade level, which Larson said is the optimal time to learn to play an instrument.
Under the new program, students will be offered 45-minute group lessons in the following instruments: trumpet, trombone, clarinet, saxophone, flute, drums/bell kit, violin, viola and cello. Anderson said the groups will likely consist of 8-10 kids each, and the cost will be $160 for 20 lessons.
"We tried to keep the price as low as possible," said Anderson, who added that PAC is seeking funding to offer scholarships to students who can't afford to pay the full tuition.
She said that she is planning a spring concert for parents and suggested that if the group lessons are successful, a band program may follow next year. "We proposed doing a two-part program," she said. "We hope to implement [the band program] by the fall."
Parents can learn more about the new program at information nights on Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Walsh Middle School, and on Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Fuller School. Students attended in-school instrument demonstrations last month.
Beverly Hugo, vice chair of the School Committee, called the loss of the in-school band program "one of many painful cuts" the district has had to make.
It will take some time to determine whether the new after-school program will be effective, Hugo said. "It's not a panacea, but it's an attempt to continue to provide … instrumental lessons while we're riding out this financial storm," she said.
Robert Mangan, a music teacher at Fuller Middle School and the former band director at four of the elementary schools, said that while he's glad to see a music program return to the schools, he fears that the program will be a shadow of its former self.
Mangan said he is concerned that the required tuition, combined with scheduling and transportation challenges, will result in fewer kids learning to play an instrument.
"It will be after school now, which means it's going to be in competition with other after-school activities," he said.
Reaction from parents is mixed, too. Kymm Devlen, a mom of two fourth-grade students at McCarthy, said both her son and daughter will participate in the new program and are looking forward to learning to play the drums and viola, respectively. "We were very disappointed when the [in-house] program was cut," she said.
Meanwhile, Sue Hewlett, whose twins are in the fifth grade at the Hemenway School, is still on the fence. Her daughters played in the band last year, and she said they were extremely disappointed when the program was cut. They both want to continue music lessons, Hewlett said, but she's not sure the new program will work for them because of other after-school commitments.
"It's going to be a tough call for some children," Hewlett said. "They will have to make a choice [between music and other activities], whereas before they could do both."
Still, Mangan and Hewlett emphasized that they are glad that students will at least have an opportunity to take music classes through the school.
"I applaud the school district for doing this," Hewlett said. "I'm glad they took the time to try to figure something out for the kids … instead of just saying, 'OK, it's over.'"
Mangan added: "[PAC and Centre Music] deserve a lot of credit [for] pulling something out of the ashes. Kudos to them for getting it together. I hope it's wildly successful."