And We Think We Have It Hard

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

September 1999

.... The music teacher parked his car in the school parking lot. He unloaded his briefcase, music, and equipment and walked to a large door on the ground floor of the building. He opened the door and walked into the dimly lit room. As

usual, he had to move boxes of trash from the center of the floor to make room for his students. The room he was teaching in was the furnace room ....

At the 1999 WVMEA conference, I participated in a conversation with several retired WVMEA members about facilities that were less than desirable for conducting classes. One member concluded that since she taught successfully in a room not suited for music instruction, she could teach anywhere.

In earlier years, music was taught in a variety of environments, including a boiler room, boy's bathroom, stage, converted coal bin, hallway, converted pool, and shower room. Many instructors have experienced teaching in Quonset huts" - those metal buildings which were purchased from the government after World War 11 and placed behind school buildings. One can only imagine the sound of a performing group in one of those buildings! In one county, students attended band class in a room located over a school bus garage. When band members paused to take a breath, they inhaled gasoline and exhaust fumes. Chorus students in another county had class in a room beside the shop. Since the wall dividing the two rooms was made of thin fiberboard, they could smell varnish and paint as they sang.

Often music teachers taught in rooms intended for other purposes. One band class met in a converted coal bin. Entrance to the room was via the boy's bathroom. Girls did not wish to go through the bathroom, so they walked outside and entered through the coal chute door. In another county, band class was held in the boy's bathroom, and a sign was hung on the door stating: "Band class in session - Please do not enter."

Several administrators apparently believed that all "noise makers" should share the same area. Some music teachers were therefore forced to teach music, a discipline requiring listening, in a noisy environment. One teacher taught chorus next to a woodshop. A band director also taught next to a woodshop, which he claimed was bearable until the shop students began to use the planer. Several teachers taught music in rooms located below gymnasiums.

In one school, a Burnside stove dominated the center of the room. Students could play their band instruments while seated around the stove and be miserably hot, or they could sit in front of the windows and be cold. One music class was held on the cafeteria stage with the curtain drawn, while a noisy study hall occupied the rest of the room. The classroom teachers in one school wanted the traveling music teacher to come to their school, but the hallway was the only place the class could be held.

Simply getting to school posed problems for some teachers. Several years ago, one female teacher rode a canoe across the Guyandotte River to get to her elementary school. Others encountered whooping cranes, deer, turkeys, and groundhogs while driving from school to school. One teacher recounted an incident where a deer jumped off a mound on the side of the road and landed on the hood of a car, shattering the windshield.

Today it is gratifying to see new buildings in many West Virginia counties. More music departments have modern facilities with spacious risers and adequate equipment and storage space.