September 28, 2021
In any activity, natural talent can only take someone so far. A combination of talent and hard work is typically seen as the path to success, but a third factor should not go unmentioned: resources. In the musician’s world, receiving musical training is instrumental for success. Missing out on resources, including private lessons and ensemble experience, at a young age inhibits a musician’s ability to perform at a high level.
In terms of a student’s high school musical career, there are a few standard indicators of skill that would allow musicians to pursue their passion in college. One of these indicators is whether a student made All-State, a statewide festival for band, orchestra and choir that involves a rigorous audition process.
“Playing in a professional orchestra, you need to be on that All-State track,” said orchestra director Jon Welch.
According to a survey filled out by 22 West High All-State musicians, 90% of them take private lessons. Bivan Shrestha ‘22, a two-year All-State flutist, believes taking lessons gives him advantages regarding motivation and accountability.
“[Private lessons] hold me accountable to practice and actually do my work,” Shrestha said. “Having a steady and consistent practice schedule is really helpful for me.”
Not only this, one-on-one time with an experienced teacher puts students on the path to success in terms of skill and technique. From finding appropriate repertoire to pointing out errors in execution, the benefits of having a private teacher are unquestionable.
Money always seems to be the main barrier for most things.”
— Claudé Pineda '22
“It’s difficult to start practicing or have a sense of direction when you’re not really knowledgeable on how things are played,” Shrestha said. “There are going to be a lot of resources online to help you out with that, but it’s not really as individualized as having one person look over your mistakes.”
At West, music directors do their best to provide lessons and additional resources for those in need. Welch recognizes how socioeconomic factors play into the accessibility of music and works to give all students the opportunity to participate in the music program.
“Students that come from a privileged rank are going to have more access to these things,” Welch said. “It’s my job to [work with] the administration, the school board and our community to provide opportunities to students that do not have access to those sorts of things.”
As part of his contract with the school, Welch organizes individual and small-group instruction to those who don’t take lessons elsewhere, such as Claudé Pineda ’22, who has taken outside lessons before but currently does not.
“I think Mr. Welch and the school district are doing their best to accommodate people who don’t have private lessons,” Pineda said.
However, because of the limited resources and time dedicated to music instruction, school-sponsored lessons often don’t provide the most efficient pathway to improvement.
“I’m only able to provide about 20-minute lessons, maybe 30,” Welch said. “Students that are taking private instruction … pay for either half an hour or an hour.”
Aside from specialized instruction, inaccessibility to instruments themselves can cause disparities within the music program. Depending on the quality, both band and orchestra instruments can cost thousands of dollars. To cover this cost, Welch works with local businesses to provide students with the necessary equipment.
“There’s really not a repair or an instrument that we have not been able to get to a kid,” Welch said.
Students on the free and reduced lunch program qualify for price accommodations for school-provided instruments. Welch estimates that about 10% of orchestra members are eligible for this.
Despite resources available from the school, more are often required to reach one’s full potential.
“It’s frustrating knowing that I [could] be an excellent violin player and a great member in the orchestra if I had more money,” Pineda said. “Money always seems to be the main barrier for most things.”