All We Need is Music, Music, Music

We will all need to B sharp to keep the music department from falling flat.

The music department at Western Not State Not College is shouldering the brunt of proposed cuts to the liberal arts curriculum, although there are efforts to make sure this doesn’t happen without a fight. Like the fight song for the college, I mean university, which last I knew still got played (in non-covid years) by the pep band following every touchdown at a Western football game.

My friend Keith, who directs the bands fifth grade through high school here in Gunnison, sent out an e-mail I have been slow to take action on, which frankly is inexcusable. I am doing penance by forwarding it to all of you. If you have, or have had, any interest in the music department at Western Not State, I encourage you to heed Keith’s call, even though I’m afraid e-petitions are worth less than the pixels they are written on.

“Gunnison Friends,” Keith began, “Western Colorado University is planning to eliminate the music major at the university.  This money, along with cuts in other departments, is going to be reallocated towards favorite departments, some of which have already received substantial monetary support from alumni and others.

“I love making music and working with students. And, I love playing with the college band.  Of my 57 semesters in Gunnison, I have only missed playing with the band 4 semesters.  2 of them from when I lived in India.  Music is my life. So, I am asking 2 favors of you.

“1. Have everyone in your household over 18 sign the petition in the link below to try and save the music major and program at Western.  When they ask your affiliation with WCU, most of you will probably put “Other.” Then in the last blank, put down if you’ve been to concerts there, or just your enjoyment of music in general.

“2. Pass this link on to as many people as you can, even around the country.  We want as many people as possible who care about music to sign that petition.”

I completely intended to heed Keith’s exhortation, and then I got caught up in my futile attempts at any semblance of time management. So I’m going to make it a priority today, especially since yesterday I read a rather unexpected letter in the Gunnison paper.

I’m assuming it was written by a former Gunnison County commissioner, although it could be someone else with the same name. There’s no reason it couldn’t be the former commissioner, and no reason he can’t take up this cause, but I was unaware of his interest in the music department.

Perry Anderson wrote: “Eliminating music as a major is a subtle policy action that will quickly lead to the complete collapse of the music department.” On his way to encouraging folks to sign the same petition Keith pointed toward, Mr. Anderson makes a persuasive case for keeping that A (arts) in the STEAM acronym.

“The Western strategic report shuffles numbers from one column to another,” he wrote of the document that recommends eliminating music as a major, “but what the numbers do not reflect is the potential for growth in the music department that lends its benefits to an intangible, full and complete education experience for the student body.”

Mr. Anderson contends, and I agree, that you need music majors to drive a program that will bring along music minors. Even if you are a student who never sets foot in Quigley Hall, currently housing the art and music departments, chances are you get impacted along your collegiate journey by people who do.

And even if your collegiate journey is long past, as mine is, that still doesn’t mean you aren’t impacted by the music department at Western. Keith asked people to make a note on the petition about what they get from the music department. My list would be quite extensive, and I have never taken a music class at Western.

It would start way back in my childhood, when my dad took up barbershop quartet and chorus singing with some of his colleagues and folks from town, much of it facilitated by the WSC music department. It would include Harvey Harriman, one of the giants of that department for many years. I sat next to him on a flatbed truck for a couple of summers after we were both drafted to play trombone in the summer band for the Cattlemen’s Days parade (in my case, it was sheer desperation on their part, me not having played since my freshman year of high school). I later got to know him through his service on the city’s planning commission, and a woman who worked at Pat’s felt Harvey was the one person who opened her son’s eyes (and throat) to the possibility of a career in music, a career that has sustained her son since graduation many years ago.

It would include the legendary John Kincaid and his gracious wife Georgie, absolute pillars of the community, completely invested not only in the music department and campus community but in greater Gunnison as well.

It would feature all those concerts I’ve attended, so many of them free of charge. From blankets outside at the bandshell, listening to the national-caliber brass bands assembled by Dr. Kincaid, to student recitals inside Quigley, in the space now named for both Kincaids. I heard an absolutely riveting piano performance by faculty member Martha Watson Violett once that introduced me to the wonders of Antonio Soler.

The music department brought in a medalist in the prestigious Van Cliburn piano competition. The man himself turned out to be an arrogant jerk, but you’re not going to hear a concert of that caliber in a town without a music department.

There’s Jeff, who tried college at a different place before coming home to Western, who now shares his joy of music with middle schoolers in California. There’s Melanie, a vocal music major who has parlayed that into career choices that don’t involve music. But she wouldn’t have been here at all but for the music.

There’s the lifetime of musical theatre, events that sadly don’t happen under the current choir director but which once upon a time were a splendid collaboration of the music and theatre departments, plus the town at large. Many of these productions featured members of my family.

There were college-community orchestras and choirs that brought all kinds of people together. In one fun story, my friend Nancy Gaylen met Nancy and Galen Houston when all of them stood up as the orchestra director made introductions.

A campus without music might be a desolate place, and I’m afraid Mr. Anderson might be right: getting rid of the major is a short step to phasing the program out altogether. A creative liberal arts school might try taking a creative approach to figuring out a way to make this work, but these days Western doesn’t strike me as terribly creative at all.

In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to tilt at a windmill or two, so if you felt like it, there’s the petition to try to get a sightless bunch to see the value of what’s right in front of them.

3 thoughts on “All We Need is Music, Music, Music

  1. Thanks for adding the petition to your daily blog. I find them so enlightening. I left a long reply about my family’s participation in the Music Department from the beginning of Colorado Normal School to WSC being establishing. I could have written a page or two. My family hosted many students from all departments throughout my life in Gunnison and was enraptured by stories that Rial told about his experiences going to School. One of my favorites was about the College Dance Band that traveled the Western Slope giving concerts and playing for dances. My father was the leader, his sister played the violin with many other students and local citizens also bringing more instruments to the group [and cars to carry everyone.] Plenty of funny stories!


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