Keep the arts alive in Caldwell County schools

This letter is to Caldwell County School Superintendent Nate Huggins, the school board and school officials.

I taught in Caldwell County for many years, and I have never been so ashamed of this school system as I am today. I understand you fired the two band directors, but will rehire only one band director for the beginning band, middle school band, and high school band.

Under your leadership, you have let a beneficial curriculum in our school district disappear. The high school music department, choral and instrumental, have virtually been wiped out of the school system.

Numerous Caldwell graduates use their music skills all through their lives and almost all Caldwell residents appreciate music.

A group of my friends and I made a quick count of people involved just in church music who were involved in high school chorus and band — we counted more than 1,200 people in Princeton and Fredonia without even hesitating. Every person we named who directed a Caldwell County church choir, played a piano, sang in a choir, worked with youth choirs, and church instrumentalists in Caldwell County were part of a school-directed program.

We have five very distinguished alumni who play in professional, national and international orchestras including those in San Francisco, Toronto, and the president’s own Marine Band. One of our music alumni, Dr. Barry Talley, was in charge of the U.S. Naval Academy Choral Music Program while others are part of university and public music programs. Youth from Caldwell County High School have performed in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Disney World, Epcot, Williamsburg, and professional sports event. They are currently employed in the Nashville music industry.

I am stunned that our school leadership thinks one band director can handle beginning band, middle school band, and high school band. Do you have any idea what it takes to teach 12-year-olds how to play an instrument? Or get 50 kids to march on the field with confidence and discipline?

Music programs not only teach appreciation for the arts, they give students skills they will use for a lifetime. The discipline they learn is the same taught in sports, but the math skills and history taught through the music and arts programs is what our humanities and civil history is made up from. Throughout history, the strongest civilizations were the ones with strong arts emphasis. Apparently, some of you missed that fact during history.

Wayne and I live in Louisville now, and when I look at the Jefferson County School System, with all their financial and educational problems, Jefferson County has realized that strong music, art, theater, and speech curriculum is necessary to the needs of their students. They are smart enough to realize the creative nurturing in many students not only improves all academic areas of achievement, it also releases and resolves many behavioral problems in students. Every day when I taught art, I was amazed that students who were disciplinary problems in English and math classes excelled at art. Their learning problems did not occur in classes where they were actively involved in the learning. I’m sure you have observed this in your work.

Gifted musicians and artists must by law be served by our schools in an excelled manner — I certainly do not see this happening in the Caldwell County School System. I remember one year that we had five Merit Scholars, and all five were active in fine arts.

I hope the high school leadership, the school board leadership, and you will rethink the importance of the entire music and arts program in Caldwell County. Many of us worked very hard to raise the money to build the performing arts building, sacrificed years of dedication with production of musicals, art shows, and band programs, taught 550 middle school students art each year to encourage creativity, and put endless hours into school and church programs to meet the needs of our community and churches. All these things contributed to the enrichment of our community

Do not silence music in Caldwell County, but encourage it. Let the music play on by hiring enough teachers to let it be taught with enough leadership to be done safely and staffed with enough people to let it thrive. You are killing Caldwell County creativity, but more importantly you are failing these students.

You should not be allowed to eliminate any more music positions.

Rebecca M. Hartigan