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An Open Letter to the Vancouver School Board and the Government of British Columbia,

On the subject of closing music programs and Programs of Choice in the Vancouver Public School System and province-wide.

I write to you today, on “Music Monday” May 3 (link to press release below), to argue against the closure of music programs and Programs of Choice in BC Schools. My name is John Oliver. I am a full-time freelance composer whose works have been commissioned by major Canadian musical institutions, including the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Canadian Opera Company. My composition, “Five-ring Concerto,” was commissioned by Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble as part of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics Cultural Olympiad. As part of my collaboration with Turning Point Ensemble, I am working as an invited guest with young composers at a Metro Vancouver secondary school. This music program is so vibrant that there are over 20 young composers eager to learn from a professional composer. I am also the father of two daughters, aged 11 and 13, enrolled in French Immersion programs in the New Westminster school District and active in the school music programs.

I attended Lord Byng High School from 1973-77. At that time, the Byng Band did not have a string section, but it was a respected band program. When I was growing up, there were no band programs in elementary schools at all, but most high schools had music programs with concert band at the core. Because I had demonstrated music talent early, my family paid for private guitar and clarinet lessons while I was in elementary school, though we had to pinch pennies to do so. It wasn’t until I entered the high school band program that I was able to explore other instruments, such as flute, the various saxophones, bass clarinet and percussion.

In grade twelve I designed a special “directed-study” course, investigating music notation history from the earliest examples of music being written down to the most avant-garde and contemporary music notation. I was able to do this because during grades ten and eleven I had taken part in a satellite program for gifted, self-motivated students at Byng called “Self.” This self-directed studies program encompassed English, History, and Physical Education. Students were required to design their own course of study in these subjects, picking their own activities and topics for study and essay-writing. We also produced our own theatre productions and planned educational trips.

I owe a great deal to the program offerings at my high school. I became a composer because of the breadth and depth of experience I gained within the Vancouver public school system Programs of Choice.

If the Vancouver School Board decides to close the band and other Programs of Choice, they will do irreparable harm. They will deprive our children of a hopeful, bright, interesting, and engaging school experience. They may save some money this year and next, but we will all pay for it in the end, including the cost of servicing the social ills that come with bored youth.

I believe that the BC government must stop funding private schools and put the savings into the public education system. Why should scarce public dollars fund private schools? Why should the wealthy be able to benefit from the mixture of public and private funding that will allow their private school to afford to offer a music program, while kids in public schools have their music program taken away from them?

John Oliver
New Westminster, BC
http://www.johnolivermusic.com

Music Monday Press Release:
http://weallneedmusic.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/music-monday-2010-press-release/

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