In choir director Chris Maunu’s experience, few places lend themselves to discussion about social issues quite as well as the music room does. While some may picture a choir classroom as a place to …
This item is available in full to subscribers.
If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.
Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.
If you made a voluntary contribution of $25 or more in Nov. 2018-2019, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one at no additional charge. VIP Digital Access Includes access to all websites
In choir director Chris Maunu’s experience, few places lend themselves to discussion about social issues quite as well as the music room does.
While some may picture a choir classroom as a place to simply learn songs and scales, “we have used the music platform to address vulnerable societal topics such as teen bullying and suicide, school violence, and the world refugee crisis,” said Maunu, who works at Arvada West High School.
“What has been particularly enlightening about some of these projects is watching the students interact with one another,” Maunu said. “Because of the safe atmosphere of the choir classroom, and because they experienced the bond of music first, they were able to disagree while still honoring and respecting one another. That is not typical in the world.”
The choirs Maunu directs have translated this understanding into moving shows, from the 2019 performance of a student’s poem about the issue of gun violence in schools, to an April 2020 digital performance sharing a message of hope with their neighbors during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The lessons learned in the music classroom far surpass music,” Maunu said.
And across Jeffco Public Schools, district leaders and teachers have long held that same belief, prompting an academic and financial focus on music that has led to national recognition this year.
In April, the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation selected the Jeffco school district as a Best Community for Music Education in 2020. Out of more than 700 awarded districts, only three Colorado districts including Jeffco received the 2020 award, which recognizes communities that provide exceptional music programming and access for students.
The award not only shines a light on Jeffco’s work but could encourage new partnerships, allowing for even more programming in district schools down the road, said the district’s music coordinator, Amy Woodley.
As for why the district has been able to provide such programming, one factor is the school board and community’s effort to put resources toward the arts, she said.
“Every (district’s) funding is different and their needs are different. We’ve been able to maintain a minimum funding for many years,” Woodley said. “It’s something that’s always a priority.”
Opportunities in the arts
The district is home to numerous secondary schools that have sent students to competitions, conferences and festivals, including Evergreen, Dakota Ridge, Lakewood, Chatfield, Arvada West, Bear Creek, Ralston Valley and D’Evelyn high schools.
Some schools have also placed in championships or earned recognition in their competitions. The marching band at D’Evelyn High School in Lakewood, for instance, has won eight state championships — a product of students rehearsing three days a week after school, for two weeks during the summer and almost every Saturday in August, September and October, said instrumental music director Becky Paschke.
Many Jeffco schools also allow students to take on leadership roles as members of the Tri-M Music Honor Society, which has been in Jeffco schools for about 20 years, Woodley said.
Each school’s successes start with a foundation in music. All Jeffco elementary students take a music class every year, which isn’t the case in all districts, Woodley said.
At the Manning School of Academics and Arts in Golden, that foundation has proven to carry into students’ middle school years, where more than 400 of the school’s 675 students take choir, orchestra, band or guitar classes, said principal Jeena Templeton.
Like Maunu, Templeton believes that music classes provide more than just a chance to refine musical talent.
“They grow as people,” she said. “They find their voices, their passions and themselves as an essential part of an ensemble.”
The school also offers a music technology class, allowing students to practice composing and songwriting, said music instructor Derek Miller.
“We examine the modern music industry, possible careers in music, and discuss the ways that music enriches our lives,” he said. “These lessons help Manning students to see themselves as creative, confident individuals with something to say and a community that listens.”
Additionally, students in district music programs say they have gained relationships alongside new musical and life skills.
“After you spend so much time on that one show, it just forms a bond that you can’t get anywhere else,” said Rayna Hylden, a student in D’Evelyn’s marching band. “It’s just a group full of love and a lot of big and small experiences you can’t replace.”
Miller added that, while encouraging students to explore their own love for music, he recalls the emphasis on music during his years as a Jeffco student before he ultimately returned to the district as a music teacher himself. Woodley likewise says she remembers getting her own strong music education in Jeffco, having attended district schools starting in kindergarten.
“The award definitely speaks to my experience as both a former music student and community member,” Miller said. “It is not just a statement on current programming, but also on the unwavering support of the Jeffco community and decades of hard work by our music educators.”
Other items that may interest you
We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.
The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.