The Island Is Alive With the Sound of Music Music Advocacy Group celebrates 20 years of supporting school music program

Sunday March 5, 3 p.m., Old School Gym

— from Sharon Ho —

Keeping music education in public school classrooms in today’s school budget climate is as challenging today as it was 20 years ago. That the Orcas Island School District has managed this since 1997 is even more of an accomplishment considering our relatively small school size. It has taken and will still take a village.

In 1997, as part of a long range planning process under the auspices of the school district, a group studying the arts curriculum pushed for recognition of the importance of music education to learning. The Music Advocacy Group, or MAG, was initiated with a $10,000 donation by the late Marilyn Anderson to the Orcas Island Community Foundation. MAG’s founding members were Marilyn Anderson, Joyce Burghardt, Victoria Parker, and Catherine Pederson, who is the current President. Other early members included Ken and Karen Speck, Kristen Wilson, and advisor Ed Wilson. As MAG’s advocacy and scope developed, it became a non-profit organization in October 2006.

Over 20 years, MAG’s consistent support has kept a school music program alive—sometimes faltering—but always present in some form. In the fall of 2012, MAG became aware that the budget might not allow the music program to be fully funded by the School. Anderson instigated a fund named ‘School Music Matters’ that raised $9,000. Working with the School Board, MAG augmented music teachers’ salaries for the rest of the year so that separate classes for the Middle and High School Band and Strings programs could continue. That name ‘School Music Matters’ still resonates today.

What has truly mattered is the partnership with school teachers, administrators, the school board and the Orcas music community, with MAG as the conduit for their shared conviction in school music. MAG’s dedicated teacher liaison joins in music classes weekly to hear from the teachers and help identify needs on the ground. In turn, the school board and school administrators, like Elementary Principal Lorena Stankevich, Middle and High School Principal Kyle Freeman, as well as Eric Webb, the present District Superintendent, have been willing to listen when MAG highlights issues and policies that help school music.

Dedicated teaching staff
Pamela Wright, the elementary music teacher and strings director, has been crucial to stabilizing the music education program since joining the school in 2001. Prior to her arrival, there was no strings program at all. Now, her string ensembles travel several times a year to regional Festivals, Honor Groups, and Contests on the mainland–consistently winning first place awards.

Six years ago, Martin Lund, an accomplished composer, musician, and performer, took up the challenge of creating a school band program with a group of middle and high school students who wanted to play music—some of whom had no previous musical experience. Their efforts and enthusiasm cemented a band ‘pillar’ in school music. Under the direction of Darren Dix, the present band teacher who joined in 2013, the program has flourished. They travel with string groups to mainland concerts and enliven school sports events with a Pep Band.

“The band and strings program has come back from school music contests with consistently high ‘Excellent’ and ‘Superior’ ratings for ensemble and solo performances, and #1 ranking in the San Juan Music Educators Association contest,” highlighted Kristen Wilson, a former MAG Board member and current advisor. “This means they have scored higher than any other school in our district; against schools with over 1000 students.”

The Orcas Island Music Festival has further contributed performing musicians as Artists in Residence to the school, in addition to summer music workshops and classes for community music students. Festival Artistic Director Aloysia Friedmann has spent many hours teaching Orcas string student groups.

This Sunday’s 20th Anniversary Concert is a crucial show of community support. All donations go towards the $9,000 to $12,000 that MAG has been able to provide to the school music program in the last few years.

Hilary Canty, Executive Director of the Orcas Island Community Foundation, summed it up nicely. “The Music Advocacy Group has transformed music education for generations of Orcas Island children. Thanks to MAG, all students have the opportunity to make their hearts sing and their minds soar. What a gift for a lifetime. Thank you, MAG, for your continued leadership and to the Orcas community for your generous support of their efforts.”

Bring your voices, open your hearts and wallets, support school music. Learn more about MAG and how you can get involved at OIMAG.org.

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The Island Is Alive With the Sound of Music Music Advocacy Group celebrates 20 years of supporting school music program — 1 Comment

  1. Thank you Sharon! What a rich and wonderful piece about this critical program. I’ll be there on Sunday to cheer!