MISSOULA – There are now 54 open, full time jobs for music teachers in Montana listed on the Montana Office of Public Instruction jobs website.
The call for music educators comes from places like Fromberg, Belfry, Chester, Winnett and Box Elder across nearly every school district, grade range and band room under the Big Sky.
Music educators are so badly needed in Montana, that the Montana Rural Education Association reported that in the 2019-20 school year, 241 music positions were offered and 60 went unfilled.
“In almost every content area there’s a shortage when it comes to rural schools, but the need for music educators across Montana is at a crisis level in rural and non-rural districts,” said Dennis Parman, executive director of the MREA.
Parman credits wages, an increasing cost of living and licensing requirements as recruitment challenges, despite “school districts of any size wanting music programs for their students, parents and communities.”
So, when a group of University of Montana music students visited the Montana State Legislature to advocate for rural music education outreach, they were funded on the spot.
“I remember the group needing very little money to meet their fundraising goals, and their presentation was just so compelling,” Parman said.
The UM students proposed a program that connects rural schools with the transformative power of music called Rural Outreach And Music, or ROAM.
New UM School of Music alumni Rory Anderson, Skyler Genazzi, Connor Dennis and UM rising senior Alli High, all of whom are music education majors and ROAM members, packed up a sampling of wind and brass instruments last month and traveled to Alberton, Superior and Havre to visit K-12 students to share – and hopefully inspire – a love of music.
Together, the four future music teachers shared the light and airy notes of the flute, the bellowing of the sousaphone and trombone, and the melodic French horn as they played themes from popular movies, including “The Incredibles,” “Frozen,” “Up,” “Jurassic Park” and “Monster’s Inc.”
“Bigger things sound lower and smaller things sound higher,” instructed Genazzi, a music education and trumpet performance major, who will teach pre-K through grade 12 general music for Alberton School District next year.
When the theme to “Harry Potter” was played, nearly every hand in the bleachers went up to guess the tune. The same for the “Imperial March” from “Star Wars.” The gym’s lighting fixtures began to shake as every foot in the bleachers stomped to accompany Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Dennis sang a bit of Aaron Copland’s “Zion’s Walls” and played a sampling of Dvořák’s “Largo” from Symphony No. 9, after explaining how the reed works on an oboe and why students should consider their voice as an instrument, too.
“Does anyone know what tool you need to have to play these instruments?” asked Anderson, from Missoula, who plans to teach music next year. “All you need is your own breath. That’s why they’re called the wind instruments; you’re using your own wind,” she said.
When the quartet demonstrated percussion with drumsticks on the bottom of 5-gallon buckets and showed how to remove a mouthpiece from the trumpet to sound like a bazooka, an Alberton fifth-grader asked how they “got so good at music.”
“We practiced a lot,” said High, a flute major at UM. “You don’t get good at something unless you practice, but it was always fun for me because I met lots of friends in music and I got better little by little.”
With funding support from the MREA and the Frank Foundation, ROAM is committed to delivering a sampling of music education to rural schools and students. MREA provides a rural scholars program, which offers a scholarship for student teachers to teach in one of the organization’s member schools.
UM School of Music Director James Randall said the ROAM program is a great opportunity for UM music education students to give back and to share what they have learned with school districts around the state.
“For many of our students, it’s also a chance to consider what teaching in a rural community would be like,” he said. “So many of our students want to continue to live and work in Montana and we prepare them for the unique opportunities and challenges presented in rural school districts. ROAM offers them the opportunity to teach and learn at the same time.”
Mica Clarkson, principal of Alberton School and UM education alumna, said she immediately said “yes” when ROAM offered to visit Alberton.
“Music is everything,” Clarkson said. “It’s creativity, history, analytical thinking and it’s constructive to every part of your life,” she said. “I look at music education as inspirational to every other subject. Kids need to be exposed to music.”
Multiple studies have touted the profits of a music education for primary students. The benefits include an enhanced development of young minds and increased memory, focus, reasoning skills and confidence; as well as reduced anxiety and stress. Other studies have shown a direct correlation between music education and increased aptitude in math and science.
Dennis, of Great Falls, graduated last month with a double major in music education (trombone) and music performance (voice). Dennis had two job interviews during the Alberton visit, and he ran up during a break in the program to interview in the school’s band room by telephone.
“It’s exciting to have the job security in this field,” he said. “The thing I’m most excited about is sharing my passion for music with students. I hope they’ll take advantage of the music program at UM and end up where I am today. That’s the goal.”