Thursday, May 12, 2011

Short-sighted budget cuts? UNL threatens to cut the organ program

Faculty, alumni, and students of the School of Music gathered on Tuesday afternoon at the Academic Planning Committee’s (APC) budget hearing to support Dr. Christopher Marks as he presented his testimony why the instruction of the organ at UNL should not be cut.
His first reason: “This proposed reduction is not a “vertical cut.” Organ is not an isolated, stand-alone ‘program’ that can be easily or effectively extricated without severely impacting the overall quality of the student experience.” After Dean Giacomo Oliva and Dr. John Richmond testified in support of Dr. Marks, the board members questioned them about how the cut would affect the students’ experience and education at UNL. There are many negative effects. Besides the loss of an organ teacher, losing Dr. Marks would mean losing a teacher for undergraduate theory and several graduate theory courses. Possible outcomes: someone would have to be hired to replace him for those classes, the workload of current faculty would become heavier, and/or graduate assistants would teach the undergraduate course. In all likelihood, whatever came of it, the quality of education would suffer in the long term. Currently, on music students’ senior assessment test (a standardized, national test), UNL students score very high every year and are gaining a solid name among music schools nationwide. With cuts like this, that is not likely to continue in the right direction.

Dr. Marks also pointed out that “organ students have consistently collaborated with instrumental ensembles like the UNL Symphony Orchestra, the Wind Ensemble, and the Symphonic Band. At least two choral concerts every semester incorporate organ, often featuring student organists. Organists consistently perform as part of chamber ensembles. I myself have performed in concert with faculty colleagues in voice, flute, oboe, violin, trumpet, trombone, viola, cello, and tuba. And, of course, organ is heard at every UNL Commencement ceremony.”

What role will organists play in the community? Not just in churches, as Dr. Marks pointed out, but with concert series and education as well. Furthermore, he pointed out the usefulness of knowing the organ for professional musicians who “must be incredibly versatile” and for them “organ is a readily marketable skill.”

The importance of organ in the School of Music cannot be measured by numbers of organ majors alone because many students study organ, not as majors but, as Dr. Marks put it, “as smart musicians who want to increase their employment.” Also, he stated, “most students of organ, even if it is not their primary instrument, work professionally as an organist even while in school – how many areas of study here can say that of their students? How can UNL deny its music students the opportunity to study an instrument that has real-world application for current and future employment?”

A member of the board finally asked an important question that brought out just how this cut is not a “vertical cut.” He asked whether the School of Music would be less attractive to potential students: the answer was evident in the vigorous nods of every faculty member, student and alumnus in the audience—YES! So many students every year benefit from the presence of Dr. Marks as organ teacher, theory teacher, etc. For many students, pianists, percussionists, string players, or vocalists, seeing this school with no option for taking organ lessons from a distinguished faculty member will most certainly count against enrolling at UNL.

What a poor decision to make for the arts at UNL and in Nebraska.

Although the official period to present testimony is past, if you are interested, contact Chancellor Harvery Perlman and APC Secretary, Dr. William Nunez.

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