Northern Cambria music program thrives despite cuts

NORTHERN CAMBRIA – The Northern Cambria School District music program has been nursing a “slow bleed” over the years, with less funding and less time for classroom instruction.

But the one thing Northern Cambria doesn’t have less of is interest.

In only four years, the district’s middle school and marching bands have both more than doubled, with the district able to boast 56 members in middle school band when there were only 12 a few years ago.

In an impassioned speech to school board members at a March 4 committee meeting, Music Director Lance Jones outlined all the benefits of music education.

“Music is all encompassing, and it’s a great vehicle for education in general – whether it be math or science. The mechanics of music are math and science, and we try to talk about that in the ensemble as much as we possibly can,” Jones said.

Jones’ presentation included a PowerPoint outlining the other subjects covered in musical instruction, including foreign language, history and world cultures.

“It takes all these skills,” he said. “You’re applying all those disciplines simultaneously.”

The upcoming May 21 spring concert titled “Across the Curriculum” is a perfect example of a liberal arts education through music, he said.

The first two selections celebrate Spanish and French, followed by a piece called “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” to feature narration from high school history teacher Karen Bowman.

Jones said history and music from Civil War-era bands also was incorporated into lecture so the students could attach a meaning to what they were learning to play.

“It’s all about a well-rounded, better educational experience across the board,” he said.

Several Northern Cambria students said they are considering a career in music and feel a strong emotional connection to their art.

Flutist Victoria Cidor, 16, who also sings in chorus, began playing piano at age 4 and joined the school’s band in fifth grade. She said music has inspired her to consider working in music performance or education.

“I love the connection to a piece when I am playing it and the release of emotion that takes place and the feeling when you are finished,” she said in an email. “You are exhausted from putting all that you have into the music.”

Cidor said music has made her more patient, a better listener and has helped her work as part of a team.

Percussionist Robert Bailey, 17, who also joined the band in fifth grade, said music has taught him balance and given him a greater appreciation for teamwork.

“When I am playing in an ensemble, I can feel all of the different sounds, parts of something together and all of the different players becoming a single unit,” he said. “It is a good feeling to be part of something bigger than yourself.”

Jones said he spoke to the school board a few weeks ago to show the district just how important music is to its students.

There continues to be healthy growth in band and chorus despite declining school enrollment, and Jones said he’s confident that the numbers will continue to grow.

The district also has been able to give its students wonderful opportunities, Jones said; in fall 2012, the district hosted the county band festival, and the spring before that Cambria Heights’ band joined Northern Cambria to participate in a workshop with Pittsburgh-based composer Samuel Hazo.

The band was performing two Hazo pieces for its spring concert, Jones said, and the workshop allowed the students a chance to work with a nationally renowned composer and ask him questions.

“That was a cool experience,” Jones said.

But the district could face more problems as interest in the music program continues to climb while funding decreases.

Superintendent John A. Jubas said the music department’s programs have created a gathering place for the community.

“The effort here has been, certainly, a win-win opportunity, where total involvement and total cooperation has shown that we have a very successful music department and it continues to grow,” he said.

Faculty and students both work incredibly hard, devoting hours of after-school time, for such productions to come together, and the band boosters and community have rallied together to keep things running smoothly.

“If any losses of money has occurred, they have worked hard to make up for that amount,” he said. “The motivation here is the key. We’re doing more with less.”

Jones said he understands the district is in a difficult position, but he hopes there will be room to allow more time for one-on-one instruction, more festival participation for chorus and a possible expansion of instrumental music classes for fourth graders.

“I’m not asking for miracles,” he said. “I trust we will do whatever we possibly can to serve the best interests of our kids.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.