BUSD Music Program Encourages Students – Berkeley High Jacket

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Music lessons at Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) begin in elementary school, where all students learn to play an instrument in grade four. The students who continue to play well beyond what they are required to play, however, are the players who feed the group and orchestral classes at Berkeley High School (BHS).

The BHS Jazz Band has produced phenomenal musicians, including big names like Josh Redman, Benny Green and Ambrose Akinmusire. The group won the Folsom Jazz Festival in 2019 and was invited to perform at the Mingus Festival. He is also known for his trips to Cuba, where students explore the roots of jazz.

Part of the group’s success can be attributed to BUSD students’ access to musical instruments. Unfortunately, this is not the case with many other school districts.

Martin Luther King Middle School group principal Nancy Boyles explained that “the first thing that is taken out of an underfunded school district is unfortunately the arts programs.”

Another factor that has led to the success of the music program is the teaching staff. The inclusiveness of the BHS Orchestra, conducted by Mary Dougherty, was highlighted by senior Clio Petty. “Ms. Dougherty is very kind and welcoming,” she said. “She works very hard to make sure the course is interesting and inclusive.”

Without amazing teachers like Dougherty, Sarah Cline or Karen Wells, BUSD music lessons could not exist.

Beginning in primary school, music is an important part of the education of students in BUSD. Nolan White, a senior at BHS, has been playing jazz since learning the trombone in fourth grade. White said music is an important part of elementary school because it “provides [the students] with a school break which further improves cognitive abilities. In other words, there is more to an elementary school student’s education than just studying math and English. A similar sentiment was expressed by Boyles: For her, a music program is part of the school district’s efforts to develop “every aspect of a student’s education.”

Marcel Shoemaker, senior at BHS and trumpeter with the Jazz Ensemble, said his experiences learning to play an instrument had helped him “cultivate a work ethic”. He believes that his strictly academic work has not offered him the same opportunity.

Another aspect of the arts education offered by the music program is the thriving community. Boyles quickly cited the ability of music to heal, to create joy, and to “bring [communities] together. ”White took a similar stance, stating that“ a lot of teamwork is required to [the music] sounds good. Shoemaker also commented on the social benefits of the music program.

The range of music courses offered in BUSD is an undeniably unique feature of student education. If you want to celebrate and support this out of the ordinary musical program, consider attending the BHS Jazz Band’s regular performances at lunch and their next show in early November.


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