CUMBERLAND – There are plenty of good reasons for teaching instrumental music and chorus in secondary schools, and the students enrolled in them are more than happy to share a few.
“Other classes teach independence and therefore cannot compare with band and chorus classes,” says Kristen Rodriguez of Mount St. Charles Academy in Woonsocket. “If someone fails an English test and another person receives a perfect score, the person who aced the test is not affected by the person who failed it. Unlike other classes, band and chorus teach the value of interdependence.”
Christina Lussier of Woonsocket Middle Schools says, “If we didn't have band or chorus in schools, many children would be unhappy and even depressed.”
And if the purpose of education is to help individuals learn to think, well, Chani Schochet of Providence Hebrew Day School says schools can hardly do without a music program.
“One reason is, that it is scientifically proven that music helps a person's brain,” says Schochet. “Music helps a person think more clearly.”
But these students aren't trumpeting the virtues of music just to flex their rhetorical muscles. They decided to test their powers of persuasion in an essay contest sponsored by Rick's Musical Instruments of 10 Nate Whipple Highway.
The mutual brainchild of proprietor Rick Verfaille and Sue Tessier-McKenzie, advertising representative for The Call, the essay contest was conceived as a counterweight to the growing inclination of cash-strapped school districts to sacrifice music programs on the altar of the bottom line.
“Some kids just need music,” says Verfaille. “That's the way they relax and the way they learn. I understand school departments need to cut here and there, but they can't be cutting music.”
In addition to making a point about music education, the winner of the essay contest will win a credit up to $1,000 at Rick's. The money can be used for the lease or purchase of musical instruments or related equipment, he says.
“They can buy something halfway decent with that or use it for a bunch of accessories,” says Verfaille, who's been supplying schools with musical instruments since 1993.
Why, with lease-to-own programs starting at just $17 a month, a $1,000 stipend is enough to keep a handful of musicians in the band for the whole school year, says Verfaille.
The deal was offered to dozens of schools from Rhode Island and Massachusetts that Rick's already supplies with band and chorus gear – perhaps 50 in all. But only eight took on the essay challenge – Woonsocket High School, Woonsocket Middle School, Providence Hebrew Day School, Middletown High School, Dedham High School, Cumberland High School, Mount St. Charles Academy and Burrillville High School.
“They just ran with it,” says Verfaille. “They all want to be helped out to some degree and the ones that don't want to be helped out, they didn't submit an essay.”
The essays have been posted online at Rick's website, which can be found by googling Rick's Musical Instruments. Readers are invited to vote for their favorite by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
The store will kick in one “scholarship dollar” for each vote cast for the winning essay, up to a maximum of $1,000. Just to keep things interesting, the store is maintaining a graph where visitors to the website can monitor the progress of voting.
Full disclosure: As of this writing, Mount St. Charles Academy was in the lead – WAY in the lead – with over 200 votes. Dedham High School was running a distant second, and everybody else was lagging well behind that.
But it's not too late to turn things around. The voting period is open until Jan. 9. The winning essay will be announced at the store at 5 p.m. the following day, and Verfaille is hoping all the competing essayists and their cheerleaders will be on hand to celebrate.