November 16, 2009
To the Editor:
As a retired public school superintendent and long-time season subscriber to the NH Music Festival, I read about and listened with interest to reports about the Festival’s programs, concerts and musical performances with public schools in this region. I was pleased that a portion of the donations my wife and I made supported these things. In more recent years, I heard less and less. Doubting some of what I heard, I decided to try to find out the exact nature of the Festival’s programs with the public schools in this area. I should point out that I am not a member of SOON’s executive committee, although I appreciate their efforts, and they did not ask me to do this. With the help of another patron, we contacted the nine School Administrative Units (SAU’s) responsible for the public schools in 31 communities in the Lakes region to ask about the programs they have received provided by the Festival. Here is what we learned.
Most of the schools in the region have never had Festival concerts or programs. Those that did had performances or appearances by professional musicians, some of whom performed at the summer concerts. They were enthusiastically received and highly rated by the schools. Without any notice or explanation reported by the schools, those concerts simply stopped a few years ago. (I think there was one last year in Gilford.) I did learn that the Festival has for some years received a grant from the Bank of America that finances concerts by a brass quintet in communities where the Bank has branches. Those concerts in such places as Portsmouth, Dover, Salem, Manchester, Keene and Hanover are not presented to schools in this region.
The Festival quietly replaced the public school musical programs with what Mr. Graham calls a music in education program, the “Three R” program, intended primarily for very young preschool aged children. That program, aimed at getting children from two to four years old “ready to learn” is currently presented by Mrs. Graham, the Festival’s Community Development Officer, in two private preschools and in four primary classrooms at the Gilford Elementary School without cost to the programs. The Festival’s website notes that “Lessons include colors, numbers and rhythms, including with a glockenspiel.” Although the website gives credit to the program for children’s advances, representatives of the three programs, when asked, said they had no knowledge of any efforts to evaluate the program’s success. The Festival website also goes into lengthy detail about the importance of its collaboration with very well known medical and educational institutions. When those institutions were contacted recently to confirm their collaboration and the website’s statements, they said they had no affiliation with the Festival and no contact beyond a conversation about collaboration “some years ago.” Disappointed to learn about what I considered stark misrepresentations, I provided the Laconia Citizen copies of statements from the institutions mentioned, copies of letters sent to Festival officials requesting information, none of them acknowledged or answered and other materials.
The Festival’s Chairman and Vice Chairman sent a letter to concert goers on November 5th soliciting funds to “support our orchestra and education programs in local schools”, Their letter went on to state: “Public schools are not able to pay for the services we provide to them that help make a real difference in learning capabilities of children.” Having learned that the total scope of the Festival’s programs with local public schools is limited to four classrooms in one elementary school, I hope that the Festival’s incorporators/donors and Board members, filling their fiduciary responsibilities, will thoroughly inquire about these things at this week’s annual meeting.
Those interested in reading the complete Education Program Report, including the statements mentioned above, can see it at www.nhmfmusicians.org or the Laconia Citizen’s website.
George Blaisdell, Bridgewater, NH