LETTER: Music shop owner sounds off about sad state of music education

'The educational benefits of music should be obvious' writes Dave Sabourin

Music shop owner Dave Sabourin in a photo on his Facebook page.

The following letter was sent to Mike Bernier, Minister of Education in B.C.

Dear Mr. Bernier (educ.minister@gov.bc.ca),

I am a business owner who supplies public and private school music programs across B.C.

The announced cut by the VSB of elementary band and strings (an apparent saving of $400,000 in a multi million dollar budget) deprives Vancouver kids from having the opportunity to learn an instrument and make social choices that will impact the rest of their lives. It will also affect my business but that is not the reason I am writing you.

The educational benefits of music should be obvious. But not everyone puts the pieces together to understand the impact of playing in an ensemble. Most adults who went through a school music program will tell you that it forced them to make a decision during their school years. Hang out with a certain group of kids or hang out with the band and choral kids.

From my own personal perspective, I reached that fork in the road in school. Of the two non-music friends I hung out with at the time, one died before the age of 22 and the other went from one menial job to the other. Neither went on to post-secondary. I could go hang with them by the automotive shop and smoke up or go have lunch in the band room. I chose the band program and I am forever grateful I did.

The middle-school years are crucial for a young person. I watched my own son struggle with the pressure of belonging. I am so fortunate that he made the same choice as me and immersed himself in the music program at his school. He is now my partner in the music business.

I also was lucky to have a band teacher who became a mentor and a role model. We are still friends today and I consider him and the other school music teachers I had as responsible for my life choices and career.

I became a musician in the Vancouver Opera for over 35 years, formed a successful touring brass ensemble that performed over 1,500 educational school concerts and started a business that supplies equipment to the education system so that kids can have the same opportunities that I had. My business is more than a business to me, it’s a responsibility.

So this is more than playing a clarinet or a trumpet. This a child’s future path. Language arts, math, science, PE, etc. are important for a child’s education. But today’s social pressures are such that a school band class provides not only a non-competitive team environment but an escape for many kids. This may be the only opportunity for a child to be part of something bigger than themselves that will also be a nurturing environment for them.

Elementary band and strings are a stepping stone to secondary school music programs and make those secondary programs stronger as a result. Once in high school, bands start going on trips, go to festivals, go on retreats. All of these activities promote a positive social experience that is hard to find in other areas of education. Friendships are formed that last a lifetime. I don’t know another subject area of a school education that can have such an impact except maybe sports. Except there’s lots of extra curricular choices in sports from soccer to baseball. There’s minimal extra curricular choices available for band.

Today my company contacted a member of the VSB to offer assistance in trying to salvage something of the elementary program. We were met with a no because they feel a user pay model is not feasible. I would agree that district wide this is a huge task-and one that should not be necessary if adequate funding was available. At this point I’m ready to try anything, from crowd source fund raising to donating instruments, even if it keeps a few individual school bands going.

But why are we being forced into doing all this work when my generation didn’t have to? I sincerely worry about the socio-economic segment of our society who cannot afford the extra fees for an important program that could potentially save their child’s life. Yes, it’s that important-ask your colleagues in the legislature who took school band and ask them for their input on how it affected their lives.

Lastly, I would like to share one link with you: http://www.musicmakesus.ca/success/HTML/index.html

Success in Music. Success in Life. It’s the truth and we need to fund it. Please.


David Sabourin,

Tapestry Music

White Rock/Vancouver

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