Music: The Black Kids and the Girls Quit — Uh, no.

Spaulding, Grammy Winner for Best New Artist 2011.  Her mother must be so proud.

Esperanza Spaulding, Grammy Winner for Best New Artist 2011. Her mother must be so proud.

My daughters are mad at me.  Well, at any given time at least one of my children is always mad at me.  It’s basic statistics — and being a parent of teens.   But they are just going to have to be angry.

I won’t let them quit Orchestra.



Please don’t report me to the authorities, according to their reaction clearly I must be committing some sort of child abuse.

Here it is.  The girls have been playing their instruments since third grade.   I have sat through Elementary and  Middle School Concerts but now that they are in high school they want to quit.


Now, I may not make them continue all through high school.   I just want them to give high school playing a chance.  Their school is firmly committed to the arts, and a high school concert sounds almost professional.  We all know the value of musical study on academics and frankly, it looks good on a kid’s record for college admission, etc.   Socially, it helps as well, keeping the kids busy and out of trouble and it’s where the high achieving kids hang out.

But I confess I have another reason.    Having sat through the elementary school concerts and on up to the high school. I’ve noticed that as the kids age, the girls and the black kids disappear.

Yes, there are many girls in Orchestra and Symphonic Band, but  I think only a small handful of girls of any color in Jazz Band and maybe only two black girls in Orchestra. There have been years where there are no black kids at all (girls or boys)  in the Jazz Band.

Let that sink in:  No black kids in the high school  Jazz Band.   That makes me kind of blue.  (I know, slap me.)

Miles Davis'  Kind of Blue

Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue

Musical Black boys, in particular,  are unicorns.    I have a unicorn.  My son  is the only black boy in each of the vocal ensembles. I think he’s the only black boy in the Orchestra.   By the way, I’m specifically saying black rather than student of color, because the Asian kids are adequately represented, though less so in Jazz Band.

Having taught music privately for years I’m aware of the natural attrition  as children hit middle school.  As kids get older they have to let some things  go and specialize in others.   They might quit their string instrument and concentrate on brass.  They might discover theater or the visual arts and move their time and attention there.   Plus, some kids and their parents acknowledge that they have no musical talent (I’m resisting saying that they suck, because that would be crass) and they decide to discontinue.  In high school, sports become more demanding and time-consuming, and sometimes kids have to make a choice, if for no other reason than time management.   I will say, though, that at my kids’ school they do not have to choose music or sports.  It is one of the very few schools whose curriculum not only allows, but encourages kids to be in music ensembles and play a sport. It’s built into the schedule. The school even has football players who play in the Marching Band at half-time.  Consequently,  playing sports is not necessarily an excuse to quit music, but it happens.  Still, a very high number of kids stay.  Even as enrollment in the school as declined, a music teacher just announced, the number of children in the ensembles in high school has either remained the same or increased!

Just not for everybody.

I’ve seen first hand, and I’m vaguely aware that there are studies to back this up, that girls and black kids quit activities starting at puberty at higher rates than their white, male counter-parts.  I’m focusing on the quitting, rather that the kids who have never had the opportunity to start.   These kids are there in elementary school, for the most part, but then something happens and they disappear.  Poof!  And again, this is not an under-funded school with a dwindling or non-existent arts program.  It’s quite the opposite.    Yet, still, certain kids are obviously, visually absent at the high school level.

I can’t stand it.    Plus, it feeds into the popular rhetoric that “Black people don’t do [insert whatever]”  and boys play instruments while girls only sing.

The Voice

The Voice: The black guy (Usher)and the woman (Shakira) play no instruments, except, of course, for The Voice. It was the same this year with Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green.

No can do, not in my house.

At least for the first year, my daughters will stick with it, because,

“Just because you get boobs and mascara doesn’t mean you put your instruments down.”  

It’s for me, for them, and for their grandparents –who have sat through the elementary school concerts and have looked forward to seeing their youngest grandchildren playing in the exceptionally good high school orchestra.  It’s for the administration and other students, both younger and older,  who need to see that not all of the black kids quit, who need to see what black kids — girls, can do.

It wasn’t all that long ago that girls weren’t even allowed to learn to play band instruments other than flute or clarinet, that girls playing saxophone or percussion was not only frowned upon but actually prohibited, and a girl playing double bass was just weird, and a little wrong.   I  have a friend who got a saxophone on her fortieth birthday.  She cried when she saw it, saying that when she was a little girl the school wouldn’t let her play sax. Now she finally has one.

Candy Duffer.  Better known as Prince's sax player.

Candy Duffer. Better known as Prince’s sax player.

Is it an added burden  —  that my kids are being required to do something partly to defy the norm or stereotype and to represent their dual minority membership?



They can do this for me, if for no other reason.

Plus, you know . . . music.

The Philadelphia Orchestra Bass Section

The Philadelphia Orchestra Bass Section

By the way, when my unicorn boy was in middle school I paid him twenty dollars to join the chorus.  He fell in love with singing.  Last year he toured Italy with a select vocal ensemble and now he’s applying to colleges with a record that includes extra-curricular activities in both sports and music.

Best twenty bucks I spent.

The girls might be a bit more expensive, though.  Typical.


Ugh.  Or should I say, Uggs?

This entry was posted in Education, Gender, Musings, Race, Race and Gender and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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