This past Sunday, a music celebration was held at the Berkeley High Community Theatre. Featured were 500 students from 15 Berkeley public schools. Before a packed house, choirs, orchestras, concert and jazz bands played music and sang songs that they have learned over the past year.
Schools in Berkeley make musical education available to all students in all grades, ranging from choral and instrumental classes in elementary school to orchestra, band, AP music theory, and jazz in high school. Through participation in music programs, students learn about a rich diversity of human experience, ranging from the European classical music heritage to jazz, rock, hip-hop, and world music traditions.
Sitting in the front row of the community theater this year was Rosemary Richie, mother of five children who graduated from Berkeley High, all of whom participated in the variety of music programs that Berkeley offers. For her, it’s been a long and winding path to the creation of a public school music program that today is respected nationwide as exemplary.
Richie is a veteran of the campaigns to preserve music education in Berkeley’s schools. In the early 1980s, proposition 13 was beginning to have devastating consequences for public education throughout California. In response, explains Richie, Berkeley parents and community leaders formed the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, which successfully appealed to the public for donations to compensate for the cuts. Since that time, as public funding for public education has diminished and school districts across the state have slashed art and music programs, Berkeley has again and again come to the support of music in the schools. Over the years, concerts, raffles, local business donations, and the city’s taxpayers have enabled music programs to flourish.
Today, support for K-12 music education in Berkeley is provided by a Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP) parcel tax. Julie Holcomb, Co-chair of the BSEP Planning and Oversight Committee, wrote in a letter to the Planet that “music instruction is disappearing from schools statewide and nationwide, but it remains a powerful presence in our Berkeley public schools … our music program will continue no matter how steep the cuts in state funding of schools. We can be proud to be part of a community that values its children, the arts, and education, and is willing to vote resources to support them.”
The celebration this past Sunday gave the public the opportunity to experience first-hand the results of this effort. Architectural designer Alex Chiapetta, whose daughter is a 6th grader at Longfellow, took the photographs that we display below.