By Sue Botos
It might be said that the district music program has struck a chord with Rocky River students.
“I see us as a cog in the wheel of a successful school system,” middle school band director Ryan Hudec told the school board at its June committee of the whole meeting. He added that over the past seven years, the instrumental music program has crescendoed, growing by 46 percent, with the middle school and high school band programs nearly doubling in size.
Add curriculum expansion such as the Friday jazz band, jazz ensemble, the River’s Edge combo, plus a growing number of students beginning instrument instruction in fifth grade, and Hudec and high school music director Kirk Taylor have a full score in front of them.
“At this point, we are starting to run thin. When you have 40 clarinets in one room, it’s a challenge. It’s our desire to expand what we are able to give to our students,” Taylor commented. As a result, Taylor and Hudec have presented the board with a proposal asking for an additional staff member, or other alternatives, to keep pace with a program that is projected to increase by 125 for grades 6-12 next school year.
The band directors also noted they have already made a major change in the format of the all-schools band concert to accommodate student musicians and their families. This year, instead of the usual concert in the crowded high school gym, the event was offered open-house style, with audience members listening to groups of their choice.
In addition to more students in the classroom, Taylor said that there is a growing number of opportunities for performances such as competitions – both individual and group – and community events. For example, he noted that the marching band, representing the most visible student musicians, is scheduled for Westwood Country Club’s 100th anniversary celebration in August, and for the Rocky River Education Foundation community block party. The jazz band now kicks off the city’s summer concert series over the Memorial Day weekend.
As both Taylor and Hudec noted, many band students are pressed for time as well, often involved with vocal music, sports and other activities calling for rehearsals and performances or games. Taylor noted that it’s sometimes difficult to get a pep band together for winter sports because of conflicts. He added that summer marching band practice is also a challenge due to overlap with fall sports workouts.
During discussion with the board, Taylor recalled that some districts make students choose between activities such as sports and band, or don’t require marching band members to participate in concert bands, as is the practice in Rocky River.
He said that band is a curricular, graded subject, which requires full participation. However, he added that he would be reluctant to deny a student access to other activities. “I am an educator first and I won’t let a student lose. I’m not going to fry the student,” he commented. While some coaches are strict about practice attendance, Taylor said there has been some wiggle room in the past allowing student athletes/musicians to do both activities. But Taylor admitted that the schedule juggling is getting more and more difficult.
School board members noted that parents occasionally ask about the possibility of a string instrumental program. Taylor and Hudec responded that while desirable, it would create a scheduling and facilities nightmare. Hudec stated that currently, the fifth-grade band at Kensington Intermediate School practices twice a week for 27 minutes at recess. A beginning string program could cut into more of that time.
Taylor pointed out that there are opportunities for student string players such as the pit orchestra for drama productions.
Parent Jim Spillino spoke in support of Taylor and Hudec, noting that the school music program caused his son to blossom both academically and socially. “Everything started to click for this kid once he developed his passion for music,” he stated.
Superintendent Michael Shoaf said that the band directors’ proposal will be addressed, particularly scheduling options. Board member Jean Rounds noted that this will be the first season for the summer fitness class option, which allows music students to fulfill physical education requirements outside of traditional school hours. “We’ll see how that impacts the program,” she stated.
“We can’t rush into this. There are still a lot of issues to discuss,” Shoaf stated.