Music classes dwindle as interest wanes

BEACON FALLS — Prior to 2010, Woodland Regional High School ran six full-year music classes and seven semester-long music electives. Choir courses averaged 23 students each and the school employed two full-time music teachers.

This school year, Woodland has only one part-time music teacher, who is also a part-time music teacher at Long River Middle School in Prospect.

Over the past few years, there has been declining interest among students in music-related courses, and classes like percussion workshop and music theory have fallen to the wayside.

Though there have been a variety of music courses offered to students, a lack of enrollment has not allowed for many of these classes to be run, Woodland Assistant Principal Dana Mulligan said.

“What we’re finding is once kids come in and do the course registration process, there’s not an interest that was once there,” Mulligan said.

One full-time music teacher position was cut to part time for the 2011-12 school year. This prompted a combination of course offerings for the following four years. Enrollment numbers and course interest continued to decline and the part-time position was cut in 2015-16. The full-time position was split between Woodland and Long River this school year.

Though average class sizes have remained consistent, the courses offered have been consolidated. Four music courses were offered this year to students: chamber choir, concert band, applied instrumental study, and ECE music appreciation.

Prior to 2010, choir courses averaged 23 students each and concert band had an average of between 35 and 40, Mulligan said.

This year, chamber choir has 20 students and concert band has 31 students, according to Mulligan. The semester electives average 12 students per class.

Though there are still opportunities offered for students with a love for music, Mulligan said, administrators have to differentiate in terms of what they are able to offer based on enrollment.

From an administrator’s perspective, Woodland Principal Kurt Ogren said they must be fiscally responsible when dealing with course selections and staffing. However, he acknowledged the benefits of a strong music program.

“It teaches students 21st-century skills, such as being innovative, creative, how to problem solve, and how to work as a member of a team,” Ogren said.

Though a lack of interest among students is apparent, there are students at Woodland who long for a more fulfilling music program.

Woodland sophomore Jillian Plante has a passion for the trombone. She feels that the music course options at Woodland are slim and has looked to outside organizations, like the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestra, for a more immersive experience. However, she recognizes that the reason the program is often overlooked is largely because of the small class numbers.

“I think the arts hallway would come alive if Woodland’s program was strengthened. There was once a time when Fine Arts Night was held in the gym because of the size of the event,” Plante said. “Now we can’t even fill the auditorium. The program has lost its spark, and we need to get it back desperately.”

In attempt to revive interest in music, administrators are turning to non-performance based classes in order to appeal to students who want to further their knowledge of music without having to step onto a stage.

This year, Woodland piloted the ECE music appreciation course offered by the University Connecticut. Students are able to gain three college credits through the course.

Senior Olivia Rua enrolled in the class because its non-performance nature appealed to her. She anticipated learning about the timeline of music’s history, and her expectations were exceeded.

“I was very involved with listening to music pieces and being able to differentiate between various time periods, composers, and songs,” Rua said. “I am not into singing or playing instruments but learning music and all of its history was really cool.”

Mulligan is optimistic that this course may have sparked students’ interests in music and hopes to offer more like them in the future.

“All of our music classes have been performance-based,” Mulligan said. “But, maybe we can gain multiple sections for those students who aren’t necessarily performers but enjoy music or are looking for an opportunity to gain a college credit.”

Officials are also proposing to add the non-performance based digital music class at Long River for next school year as part of the middle school’s unified arts program.

Ogren said changes at the middle school might take some time but will ultimately benefit the high school.

“I think incorporating technology into music classes is key,” Ogren said.

Ogren noted that students have access to and experience music in different ways due to technology. He mentioned the sound editing software GarageBand, which allows a student to compose their own music, and Spotify, which gives students access to an expansive library of music.

Region 16 Board of Education Chair Sheryl Feducia said it’s important to incorporate technology into music education.

It is an issue the board, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, has discussed. She said the board has consistently been working with the staff at Woodland to change the curriculum to accommodate students’ interests.

“Technology has taken over so many parts of our lives,” Feducia said. “We understand how technology evolves the educational programs.”

On behalf of the board, Feducia hopes to provide as many opportunities to students that will help them be successful in the future. She also believes offering a variety of courses is important to broaden the horizons of students and in exposing them to new ideas.

“I would hate to see the (music) program dwindle, so we have to be creative in getting kids’ interests back on track,” Feducia said.

Ogren hopes that Woodland will again employ a full-time music teacher in the future, and that there will be enough interest to run many more of the classes offered in the school’s program of studies.

“We are making every effort to run as many classes as we can,” Mulligan added.