The Band Stand fundraiser will be held on Oct. 13 from 2 to 8 p.m. at the Sonora Opera Hall and will include performances from Sourdough Slim, Faux Renwah, The Risky Biscuits, Lucky CuZn Brass Band, Columbia Soul and Los Lonely Coyotes.

Tickets are $12 for advance purchase, $15 at the door and $5 for students.

Maintaining a music program at a Tuolumne County public school is an expensive endeavor. Districts not only require available funds for an instructor salary, but for annual equipment revamping or replacement purchases of brass, woodwind, percussion and string instruments. Students arrive in droves to participate in music programs, school officials said, but limited funds or lack of teachers hampers their ability to provide that instruction.

“Music instruments are pricey. Maintenance on music instruments in pricey. Band uniforms are costly as well. Transportation is costly. Music is just a costly program to run unfortunately,” said Yvonne Denton, now in her eleventh year as music teacher and band director at Sonora High School.

Sonora High School, like many of the Tuolumne County schools, isheavily reliant on community fundraisers, booster generated monies and the support of district officials in order to keep their programs afloat.

Some musical equipment shows decades of use in the hands of teenage players, said Summerville High School Instrumental Music Director Jeff Johnson, and fixes often require constant attention.

“It’s old but we do our best to keep it maintained,” he said. “I feel like we have a lot of support in general for the programs, but when you are looking at budgets and how much money we have for instruments and purchases, I feel like we work at it a lot.”

Just as an example, he said, fully replacing a tuba can cost up to $5,000. Almost all Tuolumne County music programs never have that amount of money on hand, and even if they did, he said, it would likely be appropriated to fixing multiple problems instead of a single instrument replacement.

“We're not going to get the wish granted so to speak,” he said. “Financially it's hard because it’s a big expensive monster and you have to learn how to make things work.”

One Sonora organization is doing its part to provide relief to the costly process of replacing or refurbishing outdated equipment.

“Band and music education, as a whole, contributes so much to our community,” said Kim Baker, event coordinator for Rock in Road, a Tuolumne County non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing creativity in the community associated with the Strawberry Music Festival.

“I just really love to see the collaboration between the students,” she said.

Baker fostered an appreciation for youth music education as her children were raised through the school system, and her daughter’s active participation in the Sonora High School Golden Regiment Band.

“I really saw the value of learning about collaborative music and the value these school bands provide,” she said.

This year, Baker was lending her expertise and passion to the second annual Band Stand, a benefit concert for local schools. Baker said the group hopes to raise more than $10,000 this year and reinforced that “everything we make goes directly to the classroom.”

“I hope every year we can help the schools build on what they need,” she said.

Last year, the Band Stand event at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds raised over $10,000, which was split evenly among 10 Tuolumne County schools for instrument repairs and supplies. Newly purchased equipment included a concert bass drum and stand at Sonora High School, two piano amps at Summerville High School, a saxophone at Curtis Creek Elementary School, a trumpet and saxophone for Columbia Elementary School and four clarinets for Twain Harte Elementary School. Additionally, the group accrued 16 instrument donations, and funded the repair or restorations of nine instruments for use in local school programs.

Depending on what district a child is enrolled in, interest in musical education can be either resurgent or absent.

Sonora High School has 110 students enrolled in band, with 27 enrolled in choir and 20 in jazz band, with some crossover, Denston said.

Directly proportional to band participation is enrollment, she added, which has seen a decline since she began teaching in Tuolumne County 24 years ago.

“There was a time when our school student body population was much bigger so our programs were much larger and there were far more students involved in the music program,” she said.

Johnson said there were about 60 students enrolled in piano, 35 students in guitar and about 80 in the Summerville High School band classes. Additional students were also enrolled in Jazz@8 and choir, he said.

The programs were in recovery, Denton said, but the costs incurred to maintain and inventory equipment, as well as purchase music, have remained.

“You just have to have all the things that go with it that are costly,” she said.

Johnson said the biggest cost was the need for new equipment and the maintenance of the high school’s stores of saxophones, baritone saxophones, tenor saxophones, and all other instruments.

“If you're taking care of the instruments you can make them last a long time but we’re dealing with high schoolers and teenagers,” he said. “I think we all have similar issues. I think everywhere you go you have young people who are going to treat their trombone very differenly than perhaps a teenage musician would treat an instrument.”

In county elementary schools, the availability of music education can be even more dire.

Summerville Elementary School, Twain Harte Elementary School and Tenaya Elementary School are not offering music programs during the 2018-19 school year. Belleview Elementary School has an instructor starting Sept. 21.

Big Oak Flat - Groveland Superintendent Wynette Hilton, who is also the principal of Tenaya Elementary School, said the school’s efforts to locate a teacher have been scuttled by the position offering part-time employment.

“We’ve had zero applications,” she said. “Our board fully supports the idea of music and continuing with our students but just have not have had anybody interested.”

Tenaya Elementary School’s previous music teacher, which served in the position for three years, just left, Hilton said.

Denton and Johnson said the lack of elementary music education at some districts posed a concern because the schools are a feeder system into the high school music programs.

Other schools have seen their music programs grow, however, with Columbia Elementary School offering a full-time position to Diane Ditler.

“I feel very lucky that at Columbia Elementary we are able to provide a full time music program. It’s on the upswing,” she said. “I think that its growing and that its improving and that's promising but we have a little bit more to go.”

Columbia Elementary School has about 85 students in the sixth through eighth grade voluntary program, 48 fifth grade band students, and all of transitional kindergarten through fifth graders participate in music, she said.

Sonora Elementary School Principal Chris Boyles also said that enrollment in music has been “steady,” bolstered by the district’s purchase of new instruments and refurbishment of others.

Music education was paramount to student success, Ditler added, even for those who may not be as high achievers as their peers.

“We are really grateful that our kids really enjoy music,” she said. “We have some students in the music programs that might not be successful academically and this might be something that they are good at. For good students, it is just another option for them to embrace their artistic side.”

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

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