Jay Arms can’t play his music.
As a fifth-year in classical guitar performance at UC Santa Cruz, he has seen prices rise for individual lessons. Arms has also witnessed multiple programs in the music department, including the classical guitar ensemble, ear training and the piano program get slashed and cut. He is quickly realizing that his circumstances are not about to change any time soon.
“The cost of [music] classes has gone up for me, and that’s coming out of my tuition,” Arms said.
Arms finds himself caught up in the budget crisis and feels especially targeted as a classical guitar student. Many of the ensembles that he used to participate in have either been cut completely from UCSC curriculum or don’t have enough spaces to accommodate all of the 15 to 20 declared classical guitar students on campus.
In 2009, Chancellor George Blumenthal announced that the university would be taking a hit upwards of $28.7 million, an approximately 20 percent reduction in funding. Those budget cuts were passed down to the separate divisions, including the music and art division, which was told to retrofit the music department.
Graduate student Camille Chitwood, who studies conducting at the university, commented on how the inaccessability to teachers and lessons could inhibit students who want to embark on a career in music.
“It’s a hard career as it is, because we’re always going to have to rely on outside [resources of] funding,” Chitwood said.
Budget cuts to music programs haven’t just affected the university but programs in the city of Santa Cruz and across the nation as well. Taxes that would fund music programs in Santa Cruz elementary schools were reduced by roughly $500,000.
As a result, teachers’ jobs are being cut, and they are afraid that without proper instruction, students won’t be interested in the arts anymore. Because students’ learning improves with art and music in their basic curriculum, these cuts are having adverse effects on students’ academic and social skills.
Arms has tried to find ways to get around music funding and class cuts at UCSC to little avail.
“A lot of us got stuck with Jazz Big Band, in which there are only two open slots a quarter, and the Early Music Consort,” Arms said. “So what we do now is play in a chamber music group that we formed as a quartet. The problem is we don’t get as much time with an instructor as when we play with a large group.”
By playing in a larger ensemble, students get about four hours a week with an instructor. In the smaller ensembles, like the one Arms participates in, they only get about one.
“That’s not really enough time to learn how to play with a group well, so we’re just trying to figure it out ourselves,” he said.
The piano program has also been cut back, and the piano placement exam that Arms would have had to take if he had entered UCSC a year before is no longer required for his entering class. Arms said this was disappointing because the basic skills he would have gotten from that exam could have helped him later on in his music career.
Ensembles in the music department have been hit especially hard by a lack of funding. The two largest ensembles on campus, the concert choir and wind ensemble, were on the financial chopping block until bridge funding was made available at the end of last school year.
Those bridge funds are supposed to “bridge the school through bad times,” said music department chair and director of concert choir Amy Beal.
The funding comes from surplus pool money that was left over in the division at the end of the school year. There is no way to determine if it will last any longer than one year, so the two large ensembles may be cut eventually anyway.
“Music departments are really expensive to run,” Beal said. “You need so much extra equipment. People say that the only thing more expensive than a music department is a medical school.”
Beal says that a main reason the department is expensive to run is because all music students receive one-on-one tutoring during their time at UCSC. Teachers are a large expense, and so their hours have been cut, making it harder for students to get the required amount of instruction needed to graduate.
Chitwood said the cuts make it more competitive for students vying for those few hours of instruction.
“Of course priority goes to people who have already been here and have been taking lessons, which also makes it a little unfair,” she said. “And I know for a fact that there are some teachers teaching students that they’re only supposed to teach for a half hour for an hour, because they know that’s what the students really need.”
Beal said that reducing instruction hours is one of many strategies for dealing with the funding crisis.
“Layout design, layoffs, reduced hours — that’s how we’ve dealt with the budget, but that’s only part of it,” Beal said.
As department chair, Beal was a part of redesigning the music department’s curriculum for this year in a way that she hopes will save money. The department has put classes, especially ensembles, on rotation. Now, instead of ensembles being offered every quarter or every year, they are offered every few quarters or every few years.
Beal is trying to make the most out of restructuring by dealing with the budget crisis as a creative opportunity for a new, and hopefully better, curriculum. She thinks the department is secure for the time being.
“Things are stable,” she said. “Things were bad last year, but now they really have stabilized and tightened. It’s been an incredibly painful process, but it looks like it’s going to be better.”
She also hopes that part of the $3 billion granted to the UC system for the 2011–2012 school year makes its way to the music department.
Wind ensemble director Rob Klevan has a positive outlook as well.
“I’m hoping the budgets will improve and, you know, I’m pretty optimistic, because it happened for us this year,” Klevan said. “It happened at the last minute, but we don’t care. We’ll take it.”
Although the wind ensemble was not cut for this school year, Klevan has fewer students participating because of circulating rumors that the ensemble would be cut, he said. Students signed up for other classes and then weren’t able to change their schedules when they found out the ensemble was going to be offered. Wind ensemble is down to 60, but it ended last school year with close to 80 students.
Klevan has been teaching at UCSC for 13 years and says he stopped trying to recommend to the department that the school have two ensembles, one basic and one more prestigious, even though many colleges across the United States do. He knows there’s no money for it.
“It is unfortunate that we have these funding restraints because there’s so many things that could be done here that would open up new doors for repertoire,” Klevan said. “We have the faculty to do it, there’s interest from the students, but there’s just a lack of funding.”
Elementary through high school art programs don’t look any better. Significant cuts to music programs have not remained at the collegiate level, but have affected public schools K-12 throughout the country as well.
Recently, band was cut completely from elementary schools in the Santa Cruz County School District. Sandy Cherk, former arts coordinator for Bay View Elementary, said she was laid off because of a lack of funding and that art and music teachers at Bay View are now struggling to find work teaching.
“The teachers are overwhelmed, because now they are teaching multiple levels a day,” Cherk said. “Their hours have been cut, and the students aren’t getting as much instruction.”
These cutbacks are a result of a number of financial factors. Over the past few years, funding from the Packard Foundation, which has been offering grants to Santa Cruz, Monterey and Santa Clara Counties since 1997, has shifted focus and no longer offers money for art and music in schools. Parcel taxes P and B2, initiated by Santa Cruz voters to pick up where the Packard Foundation left off, have been reduced from approximately $1,635,347 a year in 2005 to only about $1,103,256 now.
The main concern for Cherk is that the education elementary students are receiving now, after the cuts, is less than what is essential.
“It’s not providing all the tools necessary to give kids who might have a talent for art the chance to start early,” Cherk said. “They cut kindergarten classes and those seem pretty important. Art affects the kids in how they learn, cognitively and socially and in every other way.”
Elementary schools besides Bay View have been able to salvage art and music programs through active parent involvement. Westlake Elementary School is one that has been able to do just this.
Dorothy Franks, arts coordinator at Westlake, said that her school fundraises for different types of art enrichment, whereas other schools in the district are not capable of doing this because they don’t have parent bodies that are willing or able to do the same.
“It’s a little bit of a political hot-potato right now,” Frank said. “Money was cut quite a bit.”
Vocal music is now only offered one hour a week for fourth and fifth grade, whereas it used to be offered two hours a week for fourth-graders, and fifth-graders were offered the choice between vocal, strings and band. Now they are only offered vocal, and even that provides limited instruction.
“What is happening at the elementary schools will affect us in a few years,” said Christina Latham, band director at Santa Cruz High School. “My job is not affected now, but it could be in the future because if there’s not students to take band, then there’s no students to teach.”
Latham is worried that without proper instruction, students will not be interested in taking band in high school at all. As of this year, two of five music teachers at the elementary and middle school levels were laid off, and hours of instruction have significantly dropped.
Although the arts are still surviving in the Santa Cruz County School District, UCSC graduate student Chitwood does not see an easy way out of this crisis any time soon.
“Until the economy of California turns around, I just don’t think it can turn around here either,” she said.
Chitwood adds that she is proud of the faculty at UC Santa Cruz and hopes that the department is not hit any harder than it already has been.
“It would be a huge shame if any of [the faculty] were cut,” Chitwood said. “I think it’s terrible that many of their hours have been cut already.”
Wind ensemble director Klevan believes that public school districts like Santa Cruz target arts unfairly, and that the city has not yet realized that it is a mistake to do that.
“I could go on and on about how wrong it is,” Klevan said. “In California, we haven’t realized how arts can affect academics and other social aspects of a student’s life and development. We continue to cut programs. It’s hard for me to understand. My grandchildren will not have the same quality education that I had when I was their age, and that’s sad.”