Welcome to the History Corner!
Celebrating the rich history of Port Byron, New York, an old Erie Canal village in the Town of Mentz. This site is dedicated to the legacy and heritage of our community as well as a variety of regional historical tidbits. I hope you enjoy your visit and will stop by again.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Music in our schools

Mentz Historian Mike Riley has complimented the bands improvement several times. Credit must be given to the wisdom of Principal Arthur A Gates for starting the music programs at Port Byron. His strong support of the arts is not surprising, considering his wife Regina was not only a well known painter and artist, she was also an accomplished musician. She was frequently a guest performer in our concerts.

Right out of the starting gate, music at Port Byron began with great achievements under the first musical director Mr. Elvin L Freeman. Freeman's award winning secret was to play simple music extremely well.

This also would be the beginning of a long legacy of students participating in the solo festivals. Freeman would also serve as President of the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA), the agency that regulates the adjudication process and the ultimate ranking to group festival selections, such as All-County, Area All-State and All-State.

Music is graded in levels of difficulty, with 1 being the easiest and 6 being the most difficult. In Freeman's day, making the group festivals did not require a student to play at the highest level. They simply had to play well. This is always one of the biggest challenges for NYSSMA, to select the best students at various stages of proficiency and group them together to perform within a level that the entire group can sustain. That is one of the reasons that being selected for these groups is such an honor. It is an opportunity for the students to perform in a large body with other students in our region, often at a much higher level than the school where they may reside. In the Freeman years, many public school music programs in Cayuga County were in their infancy, so today students who make the select groups are generally performing grade level 4 or higher.

However, the most select group, All-State, today requires all musicians play at a grade level 6 before they can be considered. To my knowledge Port Byron has sent several vocalists to All-State but only 2 instrumentalist have ever represented our home town at this level, both being percussionists.

Music in our schools has always had peaks and valleys. It takes a combination of a dedicated music director, support from the local Board of Education and most of all participation from the student body. One teacher who always understood the importance of keeping students motivated with music was Kathy Wilt. Our music programs benefited from her long years of dedication and the stability she offered budding musicians.

Appropriation of funding is another challenge for any school board in a small community. However, don't forget that every school concert consumes electricity, staffing of teachers, custodians and then there is transportation. These are all ways in which our school board supports the music programs at Port Byron.

Even in years past, self supporting fund raising was needed and the band and band boosters filled this gap. In fact, that is how the band was able to accept the 1977 trip to march down Main Street USA in Disneyland Florida. We couldn't have done it with out the band boosters.

Who knows, if you chat with some of your teachers, you may find out that many of them were active in band when they went to school. Music develops a strong sense of self worth, a network with students around the County and also improves communication skills. Port Byron has produced several music educators over the years.

Most important, no matter what level of music you play, have fun.