From the President (Apr. 18, 2010)

Dear Colleagues,

I have struggled for years with the concept of music versus sports, always erring on the side of caution and side stepping the issue in general, trying to be fair in my assessment and to give the benefit of the doubt. After all, sports are indeed as important to our society and to the individual as music; right?

Well, I am not so sure of that today as I was several years ago. Things have changed, society has changed, and values have changed. Indeed sports have their place and deserve equal treatment and consideration. But the scales are way off balance these days, and I am far too frustrated to no longer express some feelings about this subject.

I start here with a general observation at the public school level. My observation is simple: how many schools that you have been in have gymnasiums, and how many have auditoriums? I would venture to say that just about every school in our state have the former, but many do not have the latter? And the generalization I make is also simple; we do not ask our sports teams and physical education classes to play their games in the auditorium, but musicians are indeed expected to perform their concerts in a gymnasium! Simple enough, yet the generalization is true and points us in a direction that deserves some exploration. Our society is sports oriented (I call it entertainment), where I “hope” music attempts to do something beyond mere entertainment.

Hey, lets make another brief observation; the nightly news! How much of the nightly local news is devoted to sports? Now if you think hard about this one you will not have to spend much time on it. Every night on WCAX, Channel 3 (this is the broadcast I watch anyway) there is an extended amount of time (twice in the broadcast) devoted to whatever sporting season it may be, and every school in the state gets included in the coverage at some point. Lets take the basketball season as an example…..and especially during the state playoffs! Every involved team in every division gets attention, interviews and play time on the air. Indeed, some of the final games are aired! Now lets compare to our musical equivalent…maybe the All State Music Festival? When was the last time OUR playoff game (the concert) was ever covered in detail like the basketball championship games? The answer is….NEVER! If there is any coverage at all, it dwells on the “entertainment” part of the Festival, namely the Wednesday parade! And even than the time allotment is not equivalent to the sports coverage! My impression is that there are enough arts activities going on in this state to merit equal time on the air. Shame on WCAX for neglecting such important newsworthy activities. Let’s skip some of the rapes, murders, Washington and state politics and corruption and spend some time highlighting our more worthy human endeavors!

Well, lets move to the area of laudable human endeavor and take a look at what the media finds newsworthy. I guess the most recent example in a string of similar events might be our biggest and most impressive sports figure right now: TIGER WOODS! I guess I like golf well enough and can buy into the skill that it takes to be a professional in this endeavor. But really, why must this man be a constant source of news? Why is HE such a source of interest to us as a nation? His activities as a husband and a human being call into question his integrity as a newsworthy individual. Indeed, it is not his skill as an athlete that endears him to the media as newsworthy, but the entertainment value that he provides through his extra curricular activities as a man. At the root of the situation is money and ratings. But what about all of our music institutions and individuals that demonstrate “real” human integrity and honesty through an art form that is time tested and worthy of the best of human endeavor. You guessed it….that is simply not interesting enough from the media’s perspective. is this not a sad state of affairs?

I have to admit that at the public school level, funding opportunities are far from adequate for the arts and more than plentiful for the sports teams. Money for transportation, uniforms and equipment seem to be more than adequate. Yet in most schools (there are some exceptions in our state) music programs have budgets that are simply pathetic. Really PATHETIC! If music programs were funded to the same degree as our sports institutions (and I might add staffed to the same degree), we would be much better able to pursue our interests and realize our goals.

Our sports teams at the national level have some individuals that defy the qualities of honesty and personal integrity, and yet receive unprecedented media attention. There are any number of baseball players that regularly take steroids to boost their ability to “perform” at increasingly superhuman levels. Football players that murder animals and hang them in their back yards. Pop singers and performers that exhibit little skill and musical ability but can shake their bodies and personify sexuality in ways that are offensive to musicians that try to find the real meaning in the art form. Washington immorality and power receive unprecedented attention when in fact the very qualities they model are the very qualities that we as educators, musicians and conductors strive to eradicate in our own teachings and work.

I am told by college admissions officers that student application essays abound with stories of young high school athletes that have injuries from their sports participation that have ended any hope of them ever being involved in professional sports. Yet students continue to entertain dreams of making lots of money, of being in the sports dream world that they see on TV and figure they can be a part of. I recently spoke with a senior that has been accepted at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. She has not once participated in a high school performing ensemble, has taken no theory courses or private lessons (but HAS been active in sports!), and yet aspires to a music career. When asked what major she was going to pursue, she said she thought it would be song-writing. I implore you to ask the question: What is going on in our society?

As much as I did digress in the last paragraph or two, it really is a fact that the scales are out of balance in our modern day society when it comesto sports and music. I do not know what the answer might be, but I am sure that if things do not change we are on a course that has no happy ending.

Sincerely,

Frank Whitcomb

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