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Letter to the Editor: PR School Board and Administration Should Preserve Programs

Letter writer Benjamin R. Campbell, Ph.D., says his Pine-Richland music education was the gateway for invaluable life experiences. He is a 1998 graduate of Pine-Richland High School.

Before I begin, I should disclose that my wife is a Pine-Richland music teacher and would be reduced to a half-time position if the proposed program cuts from the school board’s April 23rd meeting are approved.  

This concern is secondary to the damage that would be inflicted on the Pine-Richland educational experience if these changes are enacted. I could go on at length about the importance of art, physical education, business education and foreign language in my career, but I will concentrate on music, because it is a passion my wife and I share.

I am a proud 1998 Pine-Richland Alumnus. I currently do not live in the district, but my parents still do, and my wife and I would like to move to Pine-Richland before our daughter enters school. Recent changes at Pine-Richland are making us reconsider leaving Fox Chapel. I write this letter as an alumnus, concerned about the legacy of my alma mater. 

It is my understanding that the cuts being considered at Pine-Richland would eliminate 4th grade instrumental lessons (when students first choose and learn a band or orchestra instrument), eliminate 4th grade ensembles (band, orchestra, chorus), and eliminate music electives at the high school (Harmony & Theory, Music Technology Music and Basic Piano). 

General music at Eden Hall would be reduced by 5 minutes per week, which is approximately a half year of music (18 half-hour classes) during a student’s time at Eden Hall. General music has already been eliminated at the 7th and 8th grade level, which occurred around the time Eden Hall opened. 

As a student, I learned the trombone in 4th grade from Mr. Marshall. I played in the fourth grade band and sang in Ms. Linz’s elementary chorus (one of my daughter’s favorite lullaby songs is one that I learned in that ensemble). 

In middle school I was in band and jazz band. In high school I was in the marching band, concert band, and jazz band with Ms. Vaughn, Mr. Scott and Mr. Mazur. I took harmony and theory from Mr. Supinski and learned music technology from Steve Karpinski by working with PRTV (helping to start the tradition of an annual band video). 

As a junior, Ms. Dryer encouraged me to rediscover signing, and I am eternally grateful to her for awakening a new passion in me. I joined the choir, a capella choir, jazz choir, and had principal roles in a couple musicals sharing a stage with my classmates Tim Marquette and Christen Braun.

Unfortunately, some of these opportunities may not exist for much longer. With the enacted and proposed cuts, if my daughter were to attempt to follow my path, she would receive significantly less classroom music instruction and performance opportunities than I did. With cuts like these, I fear that Pine-Richland will not be able to maintain their tradition of musical excellence.

My Pine-Richland music education was the gateway for invaluable life experiences. I sang with Penn State’s University Choir and performed with them across Eastern Europe. I played in the Penn State basketball pep band and had front-row seats as PSU fought their way to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in half a century.  

I graced the stage as a pirate in the Penn State Thespians production of “Pirates of Penzance”. I worked as a sound technician for a touring show choir that took me to venues from San Antonio’s River Walk to Joe Paterno’s living room. I joined a professional music fraternity which led to meeting my wife. 

After college I developed and taught a very popular course for the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences called “The Science of Music” and led multiple student team research projects to design and build electronic musical instruments called Theremins. Also, for a brief time, I sang with the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh.   

I did all this and I was NOT a music major, nor did I take a non-ensemble music class or lessons in college. I am NOT a professional musician and have very little innate musical talent; but I was taught at Pine-Richland how to make the most of my abilities. 

I owe nearly all of my musical accomplishments to the music education and encouragement I received from the Pine-Richland music program. For me, the words of the alma mater could not be more true, “Sing the chorus loudly, raise the banner proudly, green and white will always light our paths and goals so brightly.”

Every one of my musical activities at Pine-Richland was a positive and enriching experience that taught me to be comfortable as a performer and appreciate music in our society, and also opened doors to unique learning experiences. 

At first glance, it is hard to see how the arts apply to my life.  I have an engineering Ph.D. and hold degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering, minors in Mathematics, Business, Astronomy and Astrophysics.  

But I draw from my performance experience daily as a college professor, standing in front of a class or conference to present myself and connect with the audience. 

The mechanics of music I learned in harmony and theory bridged my understanding of math, physics and engineering concepts to merge art with science. 

And most importantly, I can share music with my two-year-old daughter with playful educational songs and lullabies. The other day she proclaimed “I’m running Allegro, Daddy!”   

Delaying the start of that musical experience and eliminating electives would have limited the proficiency and comfort I could have achieved. Reducing the instructional time would have constrained my potential. If you undercut the educational foundation, then you limit the heights a student can reach and the extent of their impact.

I am a volunteer member of the Pine-Richland STEAM (Science Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) Committee and have attended every meeting since its formation. 

I joined in good faith that the school district was sincerely interested in building STEAM. But recent events have made me question the district’s commitment to becoming a leader in this area. 

Building STEAM classrooms but cutting the arts programs that develop student’s creativity and cultivate their talent does not make sense to me. It seems illogical to assemble community members to brainstorm how to integrate Arts into STEM, while simultaneously eliminating music technology electives and removing all Apple computers which have established technology’s presence in music and art, and are the standard tools for those industries. 

Why are expensive new initiatives undercutting resources to the successfully established programs that only need marginal expenditures to maintain or grow them?  

I loved my educational experience at Pine-Richland and credit the district for much of the success I have had in my life. I hope to give back to Pine-Richland to build upon the tradition of excellence for future generations.

I hope that the administration and the school board realize how damaging these proposed cuts are to all students and to the district. I pray they decide to do everything possible to preserve these highly successful programs.

With deep concern,

            Benjamin R. Campbell, Ph.D.

            Pine-Richland Class of 1998 

 

If you would like to send a Letter to the Editor to Pine-Richland Patch, please email Editor Cindy Cusic Micco at cindy.micco@patch.com

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