YAKIMA -- The Yakima Valley is alive with music this weekend for the Washington Music Educators Association annual All-State band and choral concerts.
And, perhaps surprisingly after years of budget cuts to public education, so are the hallways of the state's K-12 schools.
Music teachers attending the President's Day weekend events said their subject is faring as well as other elective subjects and extracurricular activities in a leaner budgeting environment.
Money has been stretched, class sizes are up and, in some districts, music teachers are being asked to pick up classes in other subjects to make up for layoffs. But music isn't bearing the brunt of the cuts.
Budget cuts themselves might not be the biggest threat to fine arts education in Washington. Instead, increased requirements for high school graduation and college admittance are leaving students with no time for music.
The freshmen class that will enter the state's high schools next fall are required to take an extra year of math -- at least three years instead of two -- leaving less time for elective courses such as music.
Students already are stretched thin for time in high school, especially if they intend to go to college -- and the vast majority of music students do, said Bruce Caldwell, executive director of WMEA and a former music teacher for 31 years.
Most colleges expect students to take a foreign language in high school and more years in core subjects --math, science, English and social science -- than the minimum state requirement, according to the State Board of Education.
More than 1,000 music teachers are in Yakima this weekend for the association's annual state conference -- and to celebrate the group's 75th birthday. About 1,600 of the state's best student musicians also are in town to perform a series of concerts beginning today.
Washington consistently produces high school music groups that perform and compete on elite national stages. For example, the state usually sends two or three jazz groups to New York City's Essentially Ellington festival each May, which accepts only 15 bands into the competition each year, Caldwell said.
The Washington State Board of Education's change in graduation requirements caught the association somewhat off guard.
"By the time we realized what was happening, we were too late," Caldwell said.
Association members and officials testified before the State Board of Education against the changes, but the group only got into the argument after the board already had come up with its proposal.
The association learned a valuable lesson from the experience: It's better to be in the room when negotiations are going on, rather than commenting on the finished agreement.
"Advocacy is becoming very important," Caldwell said.
The group wants to teach parents and music supporters to direct advocacy efforts first toward local school boards, where they can have the greatest impact. Last year, it offered an advocacy training session in Everett. It plans to offer several sessions across the state each year, he said.
In Olympia, the association already has developed contacts at almost every level of state policy formulation, Caldwell said.
Ensuring local support is especially critical to the health of music programs at small districts, said Ed Cunnington, the WMEA's Small Schools Curriculum officer and a music teacher at the East Valley School District's middle and high schools, because providing a good program costs money.
"I've got $15,000 in timpanis sitting at the back of the room, along with ... $20,000 in other percussion instruments," Cunnington said. "That all has to be maintained."
Small school districts have more budget limitations than their larger counterparts and typically employ younger music teachers who might not have learned how to stretch and squeeze limited resources, he said.