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Concord High School orchestra member Faith Stilwell lets El Monte fourth grader Elondra Hagerstrand, 9, try out the viola while visiting El Monte Elementary in Concord, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. Several years ago, the Mt. Diablo school board eliminated instrumental music instruction in elementary schools due to budget cuts. Now that the district is getting more money under the state's new funding formula, music educators, parents and high school students are urging the district to reinstate the program in fourth and fifth-grades. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

It was playful pandemonium as Concord High School band and orchestra students finished playing and descended from the stage at El Monte Elementary to show their flutes, drums, violins, trumpets, bass guitars and other instruments to about 100 fourth- and fifth-graders, whose eyes lit up with excitement as they reached to touch the instruments they had just heard

Elondra Hagerstrand, 9, smiled as she placed a viola under her chin with her left hand, while holding a bow in her right hand.

"I love music," she said. "I really have a passion for it. I want to learn the violin or viola. I just really like the sound it makes."

To drum up interest in band and orchestra programs, music students from College Park High in Pleasant Hill and Concord High in Concord invited elementary students to see and touch their instruments and watch their groups perform. The outreach among students, teachers and parents is an effort to restore instrumental music instruction to fourth and fifth grades after the school board eliminated the band and orchestra programs years ago because of budget cuts. As a result, there are too few students entering high school with a good foundation in music, some advocates say.

Now that the district is getting more money under the state's new funding formula, music supporter say it's time to reinstate programs they consider vital to maintain the health of the programs in secondary schools.


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Faith Stilwell, 14, said she started playing viola in fifth-grade in another district, then performed in the El Dorado Middle School Orchestra in Concord before joining the Concord High orchestra. She said it helped to learn the instrument when she was young.

"It gives you a way to express yourself," she said. "And you get to be a part of something."

At Foothill Middle School in Walnut Creek, elementary students walked between rows of musicians who were performing, allowing the younger boys and girls to experience the thrill of being inside a group making beautiful music.

Northgate High musician Anna Waletzko hosted a concert at her school as her senior project to raise money for elementary music programs.

"Without elementary school music, our entire band program crumbles," Waletzko told school board trustees in February. "Being in band gave me a sense of security, it gave me confidence and so many wonderful experiences. My hope is that we can bring music back to our elementary schools for years to come so that students can benefit because I know that our band programs have a lot to offer."

College Park High students are teaching local elementary students to play instruments after school. But in some other areas, parents pay for after-school or private lessons for elementary students.

Band director Zach Pattison, who teaches at Oak Grove Middle School and Ygnacio Valley High in Concord, said those programs, which serve many low-income immigrant families, have deteriorated since the board eliminated elementary instrumental music. He urged the board to reinstate the programs as a matter of equity.

"Do we want to be the kind of people who say, either openly, or implicitly, that art is only for the wealthy?" he asked. "Or, do we want our policies and our practices to truly demonstrate what we say we believe -- that every student matters?"

ONLINE
More information about the effort to bring back elementary music is available by visiting www.mdmef.org.
To see video clips of Mt. Diablo district music students performing and advocating for elementary music along with parents and teachers, visit www.contracostatimes.com.