By Audrey Frigon, CHS Fall Intern
The Earshot Jazz Festival is again underway in Seattle and, included among the great performers like Cécile McLorin Salvant and Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés Jazz Batá, will again be students from across the Central District and Capitol Hill performing with their Seattle Public Schools music programs. But this year’s appearance by the award winning Garfield High and Washington Middle School bands is about more than great jazz.
Along with jazz greats, the festival will be featuring Seattle students in a fundraising effort. Washington Middle School and Garfield High School students are tuning up to perform a benefit concert called Jazz Up Jackson Street. The goal of Thursday night’s performance? To raise awareness and funds for Seattle’s Central District schools’ music programs as they embark on a daunting new initiative — giving every single student an opportunity to learn a musical instrument.
Arlene Fairfield, an organizer of the event, said the music program does not reflect the diversity of Washington and Garfield’s demographics.
“School music programs in the Central District have a long history of excellence that has been recognized both regionally and nationally,” she tells CHS. “However, the student musicians in these programs have historically underrepresented the diversity in our schools.”
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The musical change comes as Seattle Public Schools is weighing other major changes to address inequities on its campuses including cutting or cutting back its Highly Capable Cohort program starting at its Central District middle and high schools, Washington and Garfield.
The music initiative, with enough funds raised to make it work, hopes to take the opposite approach by expanding the program so that everyone gets to experience the instruction and, if students choose, stick with the program..
Washington Middle School has laid out a five year goal of reaching a more equal demographic representation across their music programs, especially in advanced ensembles.
How does the public school plan to reach this goal? Fairfield said the most important issue to combat in the programs is accessibility.
Starting in the 2019-2020 school year, every Washington Middle School student must be enrolled in a performing ensemble. These classes are incorporated into the school day so students from all backgrounds and those who participate in after-school activities may participate.
Washington Middle School parent Christine Shigaki said she is very happy about the change and believes the change is a great idea as her son, a seventh grader at Washington Middle School, has the opportunity to participate in the orchestra.
“It is great that they are encouraging music,” she said. “I can definitely see a change, my son is really enjoying playing music with all his friends, he has gained confidence and even leadership skills.”
To start the school year, the new changes to the music program at Washington Middle haven’t always hit the right notes. Getting instruments for the kids and starting basic instruction for those brand new to band has gone slowly at times. And experienced student musicians have had to be patient as their fellow new student musicians catch up.
There’s also the money. The change requires an increase in resources for the program. All the proceeds from the festival performance will go towards resources like instruments, method books, and sheet music, outreach programs, and coaching for the students.
Fairfield said the schools have a legacy of outstanding music education and high participation.
“All of the artists in our performances have a connection to our schools because music is an integral part of our culture,” she said.
Washington Middle School and Garfield High School students and alumni will be performing at Jazz Up Jackson Street on October 10 at 7:00 PM at Town Hall. You can buy tickets — from $5 to $100 — and learn more at jazzupjacksonstreet.org.