Imagine a world without music. No more dancing. No more singing. No more rhythm. With four million dollars in budget cuts slated for Santa Barbara’s elementary and high schools, the county’s students are facing just such a bleak future: an education with a void in place of music.
When it comes to appreciating the musical arts, Santa Barbara has a rich cultural legacy. The Santa Barbara Choral Society, Santa Barbara Symphony, and Opera Santa Barbara are all well known and highly respected institutions. Organizations like CAMA and Arts & Lectures regularly bring world-class musical artists to Santa Barbara, as do the Lobero Theatre, the Granada, the Bowl, and the Music Academy of the West. The city’s adult education programs offer high quality instruction for amateur musicians. Yet Santa Barbara schools are currently considering terminating music programs in our schools. Without access to musical instruction, Santa Barbara’s youth will have little opportunity to develop their musical interests and talents, and aspiring young musicians will be at an acute disadvantage in pursuing a professional career. For a city with such appreciation for music, it’s not a sustainable solution.
Ray Macy, a Santa Barbara High School senior and trombone player, has been involved in public school music programs for over nine years. Concerned at the proposed budget cuts, he joined Music Students United, an SBHS student advocacy group that has been gathering student signatures protesting the cuts. MSU points to studies that show music students are more motivated, better testers, more self assured, more active in their community, and harbor less aggression than the average student. Macy recalls a time when there were music teachers at every Santa Barbara elementary school and the study of any instrument was possible; now, he says, music instruction is limited. “If you cut from the bottom; it affects the top,” he said, indicating that such cuts would impact the future of music in Santa Barbara. Macy sees music as a global language, a tool that transcends differences and connects people on a deep level. “It affects people across all cultures,” he said.
Another Santa Barbara High student, junior Raul “Lito” Hernandez, said his success as a musician wouldn’t have been possible without the support of his public school music instructors. “Inspiration to keep me going came from my teachers,” he said. Hernandez’s primary instrument is alto saxophone, his first instrument which he began playing in the fourth grade thanks to his teacher’s encouragement, but he also plays five other instruments, all of which, save piano, were discovered through and learned in the public school system.
Hernandez was recently selected as a finalist for the Dorothy Chandler “Grammy” Spotlight Award. The prize is the most prestigious of its kind granted in Southern California. Over the course of the past year, Hernandez auditioned numerous times, and, from among 2,000 other Californian contestants, was one of two students to receive this honor. Both finalists have already received four thousand dollars for their outstanding performances. The first place winner will be selected on Saturday, April 26, when both finalists will give solo performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles for an audience of over three thousand people. On Sunday, April 13, Hernandez will perform at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara along with other SBHS musicians.
Lito Hernandez is a great example of the musical talent Santa Barbara’s public schools can support and encourage. He is also a great example of the kind of talent the pending budget cuts will be snuffing out. To date, every one of Hernandez’s high school and elementary school music teachers have received lay-off notices.
Hernandez was saddened at the prospect of the budget cuts, and shared that many students wouldn’t be able to study music if it wasn’t provided in the public schools. He also stressed the importance of music and its power to connect people and keep them on the right track. “Art programs of the Santa Barbara School district open doors to a safer environment where students are presented with the tools necessary for being a well rounded student ready for college and the great life which lies ahead,” Hernandez wrote. “Without these programs, many students will be denied access to these life changing opportunities.” Hernandez’s mother, Franklin Elementary School teacher Suzette McCormick, is grateful for music, and grateful that her son discovered such a passion. It would be sad indeed if such passion and such accomplishment were unable to continue in our schools, and in our community.
411: Lito Hernandez and the SBHS Jazz Band will hold a silent auction and play a jazz concert to raise funds for SBHS instrumental music programs at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara on Sunday, April 13 from 3-6pm. For tickets or more information, call 637-4291.
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Brian Doose is an intern at the Independent.