New students should get more instrument choices

Eighth grade student Blake Kelly plays the euphonium in beginner band class as Mr. Gordon Graham conducts. New eighth grade students get to choose between the euphonium, the clarinet, and the trumpet at the start of the year (Photo by Joaquin Martinez).

When new students enter the Middle School, they are introduced to a selection of instruments as possibilities for them to play in music class. The problem is that the performing arts schedule and curriculum both require students to play an instrument in either the band or the orchestra and participate in the choir. At present, students in the fifth grade can choose from a wide variety of instruments. Their options include the flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, euphonium, percussion, violin, viola, cello and double bass. From sixth grade up, new students can choose from a smaller choice of instruments, which some students find unfair.  If a student is joining band in sixth grade, they only have the options of clarinet, trumpet and euphonium. In orchestra, the system is very different. In sixth grade, you can choose from violin and viola, while in seventh grade you can only play viola. In eighth grade, you cannot start a new orchestra instrument, which causes anger and frustration amongst most eighth graders. 

Very few new students believed that there are enough choices, but teachers have a different take on the situation. For instance, the fifth grade aide, Ms. Sandhya Jois, considers “that there is enough choice for new student in band or orchestra. I think in terms of being a teacher it would be more efficient to control and sound better with fewer instrument to pick from.” 

Ms. Carolyn Stock-Chapin, a music teacher and the band director said, “If students had a choice of every instrument it would be harder for them to catch up, while with a smaller selection, it will be quicker for the teacher and the student to progress and to help them to integrate the band or orchestra quicker.” Admittedly there is an academic reason to the small choice which enables students to catch up with their grade’s band. 

The majority of students we talked to believed that there is not enough choice for new students. “It would be great to add one more instrument to the selection process,” said Hannah Thier, an new eighth grade student. “It also would allow more freedom of choice.” 

Michael Subberwal, another eighth grade student new to ASL, agreed. “I don’t think that there is enough choice in either band or orchestra,” he said. “I chose orchestra only because I knew how to play an instrument, the violin.” 

MacCoy Weil, a seventh grade student said, “I am a new student and I believe that is not enough variety in general. The only option for orchestra in seventh grade is the viola. If I did not come this year but next year, I would not have had the opportunity to join the orchestra. The option for orchestra is not very appealing so out of disgust I chose band for the liberty to choose my instrument.” 

This is a further proof that middle school students are not entirely satisfied with the choice that they are being offered. 

As a new student, I feel I was misled to think that I could play the violin, as I was told that I could try to play the violin when entering the school in eighth grade, but sadly was not offered that opportunity. I am now playing clarinet – which is fun – but not my first choice. I was convinced up until the first day of school that I would be allowed to play the violin. Nevertheless, despite my disappointment, I still believe that the school’s music program is amazing, but that it could do with the addition of more options for new joiners.

About Rudi Stern ('22)

Opinions Editor (2017-18)

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