Thursday, November 12, 2009

3rd Year Music Major Alex Rosales; "UCI will lose its only bassoon major unless I receive more Financial Aid, and I feel guilty asking for more"

By Christie Sosa

Music majors, especially members of the Music Student Council campus group, agree that the best things in life are indeed free and were infuriated to learn that starting next fall, it’s possible that their private music lessons (currently covered by tuition fees) may go from being free to $450 per quarter.

During the Sept. 24 walkout, music students protested by playing their instruments on Ring Road. Shown at left: president of the Music Student Council group, senior Anne Marie Alexander plays her cello beside junior Alex Rosales, who is by the way, the only bassoonist player majoring in music at UCI, in an effort to encourage fellow students to attend the Symphony Orchestra concert October 31.

“The Music Student Council actually started two years ago but there was a lack of interest,” says Anne Marie. “Though after this situation with the proposed course fee, people started to get really interested in how the music department is run. So we decided to get back together and plan to organize fundraisers. We are also trying to get the word out that this stuff is impacting every one, not just us. The whole school is going to be impacted, but they are just starting with us because we are the easiest targets.”

The Department of Music offers two types of degrees. The most common a bachelor arts degree major in music, which requires students to take lessons for 6 quarters, which is equivalent to two years. The other degree offered is a bachelor arts degree in music performance, which requires students to take lessons for all four years.

Although the idea of a charging an additional course fee of $450 a quarter seems inevitable, music students are not opening their wallets without a fight. A Facebook group called Advocates for UCI Music Performance, features over 70 members who actively post their opinions about the proposed course fee.

Active member Celeste Markey, a 4th year clarinet performance major, tells me, “I have depended on Cal Grant money for the past four years as the primary funding for my tuition. If I did not have the money, I would not have been able to earn a degree. Excess lesson funds on top of the increasing tuition, would mean that I have to pay out of my pocket, which neither my parents or I can afford to do.”

On the group page, Markey posts e-mails sent from the music department to music majors and asks for people to comment on them. In an e-mail sent out October 2 from the music department, explains that the following classes, “Music 165 (piano), Music 166 (strings), Music 167 (winds), Music 168 (voice), Music 169 (percussion), and Music 170 (guitar and lute)… without such a course fee, we would be forced to institute a significance reduction in, and perhaps even a discontinuation of, these courses beginning in Fall 2010.”

Students are encouraged to take the following survey placed at the end of the e-mail that reads:

“Please respond to this proposal, as follows:
____ Yes, I support the proposed course fee of $450
____ No, I do not support the proposed course fee of $450
____ Don’t know”

While most comments made on the group’s page are by students whom disprove the measure, Advanced Vocalist UCI professor Darryl Taylor feels the measure could prove to be beneficial. In an effort to justify the fee to students, Taylor comments on the group page explaining that there isn’t enough money to hire faculty members to provide private lessons, and without the fee performance education will “deteriorate” quickly.

Department Chair and Professor of Music, David Brodbeck, in an interview discussing the budget cut affects on the music department, like Taylor, expresses a similar concern. Brodbeck is sure that without the course fee, the music department will continue to be unable to accept future music majors simply because there is not enough money to hire part-time faculty members (with specialty in an instrument) to provide private lessons for the students.

Q: Approximately how much does it costs to educate music majors?

A: Although every teacher has a different pay scale, it costs on average $1,000 per student per quarter to provide private lessons for ten weeks. So if there were a teacher who taught 20 students individually, that’s an equivalent of $20,000 to teach that class. We have to pay a teacher for every student he/she teaches.

Professor Brodbeck went on to explain that the music department relies on hiring part time faculty members who are specialists in performance on an individual instrument. There is no need to have a full time, for e.g., trumpet or flute teacher because the school doesn’t have enough students studying those instruments to justify that. So the departments heavily relies on part time positions and are positions generally not a part of the regular budget, so the department asks year for funds to hire part time people. This is true for any department.

Q: How did the music department deal with the cuts initially this year, and can you confirm that private office phones have been eliminated?

A: Well, our part time faculty budget was reduced, and without any other way of dealing with the cuts quickly this year, we decided to have fewer music majors, or a small freshman class. We hold auditions in January and knew we were not going to be able to have auditions in a lot of instruments, so we decided to reduce admissions. Unlike most departments we have auditions and control over how many are accepted in the department. We didn’t take any new students in any instruments that are taught by any of the part time faculty, that way, we knew we wouldn’t have to hire those part time faculty members next year to teach any new students. As for the phone lines, well it’s a common way to reduce costs so we asked faculty members if they didn’t mind to give it up. No one was forced to give it up.

Q: What were some of these instruments the department did not accept this year and which were accepted?

A: But we didn’t take any new students on any orchestral instruments, which includes flutes, oboes, clarinets, french horns, trumpets, trombones, cellos, violas, saxophones, bassoons, anything of that sort. Instruments we were able to accept this year due to the fact that some of our full time faculty members are instrumentalists, which include pianists, vocalists, one violinist, and one guitarist so we were able to take new students on those instruments. Actually, we didn’t take any singers, cause our full time faculty already had their complete number of students so if we accepted more voice students we would have had to hire someone to teach them, and we couldn’t do that so we have 25 vocalists majors as of now and none are freshman.

Q: How does the music department plan on dealing with the budget cut issues in the future?

A: Rather than just eliminate admissions; what we’ve decided to do is ask the students to help us, through the course fee. We would use these course fees to pay for approximately half of the cost for hiring experts to come in and teach the students. We try to explain to the students they get ten lessons a quarter for the cost of $450, which boils down to $45 a lesson. We have world-class teachers who would easily demand $90 or $100 a lesson out in the real world. A bitter pill to swallow. But they have to understand it’s one on one instruction and I will tell you that it is a very common practice. . Santa Cruz has a course fee, which they raised recently.

Q: If this budget cut situation stays in the same path it is in right now, what do you see happening to the music department in the future?

A: What we know is that the Music Department will not survive if we keep limiting admissions. Eventually, the students here are going to graduate and we currently aren’t bringing any new students in. Unless we wanted to decide that we are not going to have students take private lessons in their instrument as part of their major, then we really couldn’t survive. We still have plenty and a whole range of instruments among our music majors right now; we just have a small freshman class. If we were to keep doing this for 2-3-4 years in a row, there will be an obvious affect. People will graduate and those instruments will not be around anymore. Violinist will not be able to play a string duet because there won’t be a cellist to play with. That’s not really a problem now, but in the future it will be.

Conductor of the Orchestra, Professor Stephen Tucker explains that already such problems are beginning to arise this year and says, the “future of the orchestra isn’t looking too pretty either.”

Q: Is there any particular group of the orchestra that is suffering?

A: The brass and the woodwinds section have been hurt. We have very few French horns. We need four and only have two, which consists of students who have been in school for already three and four years now, so we’ll lose them after this year. We didn’t get any trumpets, though we have some left over. We are also short two trombones and we have no tuba or percussion players. In simpler terms, the true problem is all instruments except violins.

Q: Does the absence of those particular instruments affect the other students participating in the orchestra?

A: Well, it becomes very taxing when I am trying to teach something that requires all of these elements. It’s like trying to play baseball, you need 9 players but you only have 7. It doesn’t work. You can bring in people in later on, but the team cannot practice together properly, therefore the educational aspect is lacking. Students are not learning completely. The students are here to learn what they are expected to do in the real world. Also, the only material they can learn from this year is only what we have in school in the library. In the past, music, per se from the old time, which includes Mozart, Beethoven, etc. is music that can be bought. Music from the newer time though, (not in your life-time and just before mine) written by American composers, students should be exposed to. Except, this music cannot be bought, it has to be rented. With budget cuts, you can’t rent or buy for that matter, and we can’t touch the same material over and over every year.

Q: How many people participate in the orchestra and how many people typically make up an orchestra?

A: There’s about 45 students signed up for orchestra, receiving credit. Other students, who have time to participate, come in and the number of those students varies from quarter to quarter. Currently, there are about 50 students in orchestra, which is much lower than what we’ve have been in the past. An average school size symphony orchestra would be somewhere between 70 and 80 players. Don’t get me wrong, ours is good size overall and we’ve been fortunate enough to have a group of violinists coming in, a group of cellists from last year, so the strings are very healthy. Even if auditions are held next year, there’s no guarantee the slots will be filled that were not filled this year. Other slots will open this upcoming year when students leave because there are quite a few students who are going to be graduating this year, who play instruments we didn’t audition for last year. If the music department attempts to work within the budget by not holding auditions then we wont have enough to people to make up an orchestra.

Q: What do you think about the proposed $450 course fee per quarter for private lessons?

A: I am very torn about the fee, and I think that in itself will only be a stop cap measure. It’s a subject I don’t know enough about. Though currently, I personally don’t see that as an immediate solution. Music students are always spending money, for e.g. the flute or the oboe require regular maintenance or else they become deficient and the instrument doesn’t play well. Oboe and bassoonist players always have to buy materials, and the string players as well always have to buy new strings. All instruments require attention and it’s costly.

Although music professors have different opinions about the proposed course fee, most will agree that $45 a lesson from world-class professional performers is reasonable. The $450 fee per quarter, totals out to be an extra $1,350 a year. For bassoonist music major Alex Rosales, $1,350 a quarter is money neither he, nor his family has.

Q: Tell me about the day you found out about the fee.

A: It was a pretty usual day, after class I went home opened my e-mail and found a "survey" sent from Juliana (our dept. chair's secretary) stating the current dire situation of the music dept. and the need for proposed fee. I was SHOCKED not only at the very informal way to bring up such an important issue. I immediately responded NO to the survey and sent it in.”

Q: How will this fee personally impact you?
A: This impacts me dramatically because this last summer my family lost our house due to the economic crisis. My situation got so bad that I almost did not return to school. Thanks to the help from the Orchestra Conductor and 3rd Bassoonist (and also Dean of Undergraduate Education) Sharon Salinger, I was able to return. I cannot afford to buy my own bassoon. I use one that is owned by the school.

(A cheap professional one costs over $20,000.

Q: If the proposal passes, how do you plan to pay for it?

A: I talked to my family and decided that I will not pay those extra fees. If they do pass then I will drop the music major. UCI will lose its only bassoon major unless I receive more Financial Aid and I would honestly feel guilty in asking for even more money. I will probably just be another Political Science major. It’s cheaper, even though I’m more than half way done with my B. Music degree. Right now, I'm just hoping this doesn't pass. I am preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

Rosales also participates in UCI’s orchestra and like Conductor Stephen Tucker, agrees that the orchestra’s future doesn’t look great. When he was a freshman, the music department accepted him as a bassoonist major and “happily hired a bassoon teacher to provide me with my required lessons.”

Unfortunately, the department is no longer “happily” hiring anyone. It’s the first year the department had to deny several instruments, mostly being orchestral. Although the department has enough majors currently, and the orchestra is “getting by,” it’s evident that the department is slowly beginning to deteriorate. As long as funds are cut, the music department will continue to suffer and the burden of increasing fees will fall upon the shoulders of those music majors left. One positive aspect though is the fact that groups like the Music Student Council is uniting music majors to work together in order raise money for the department. It also serves as a support group for those who like Alex Rosales and Anne Marie Alexander can relate and confide in one another because they understand what each other is going through. Despite the department’s situation, it is inspiring to come across groups like that of the Music Student Council enthusiastically ready to fight for what they believe is rightfully theirs.

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