We all have “that song” – the one that makes us turn the volume up and sing along as we breathe in the lyrics and feel the beat. Across all different genres, music connects us with our emotions and each other, reminding us that we’re not alone.
While the power of music is felt every day, March is recognized as “Music in Our Schools Month”. In honor of this year’s theme, “Music is All of Us”, we invited Manteca Unified’s Visual & Performing Arts (VAPA) Coordinator Anthony Dahl to tell us more about the evolution of MUSD’s music program.
Mr. Dahl has an extensive history with Manteca Unified, which began when he accepted a position as a 4-8th grade music teacher at August Knodt in 2005. After his first year with MUSD, an unexpected opportunity to serve as the band director at Manteca High changed Mr. Dahl’s career plans, where he remained for 13 years. To this day, he cherishes and maintains important mentor relationships he established during his time there.
While he loved his time at Manteca High School, Mr. Dahl dreamed of advocating for music education at the district level. He became MUSD’s Music Coordinator before stepping into the role of Visual & Performing Arts Coordinator in 2021.
Recently, Mr. Dahl was invited by the California All-State Music Education Conference to mentor other school districts on how to implement inclusive music classes. Following his presentation on building a school mariachi program, Mr. Dahl sat down with us to share how MUSD’s Music Program prioritizes inclusivity, collaboration, and creativity – and what this means for students.
Q: Within the last few years, MUSD’s Music Department established a vision statement: “All students realize musical and personal success in an inclusive, collaborative, and creative community.” How did this vision statement come to be, and what were the intentions behind it?
When the pandemic began in 2020 and we transitioned to virtual classrooms, the Music Program had to address a lot of challenges, but one of the bright spots was that it gave us the opportunity to reevaluate our perspective on what is truly important to us as music educators.
Drafting a department vision statement of priorities, inspired by MUSD’s vision, was something that helped us with that perspective. We had a committee of teachers who met before school once a week for a few months to discuss the topic and craft the statement. During these meetings, we realized what’s most important is that students feel like they belong, work together, create, and become better musicians and people through the skills they learn in our program.
Q: Many people who aren’t familiar with school music programs might think that students are only learning certain genres of music, especially classical and jazz. In reality, students learn about several genres of music with various origins, such as mariachi. Why is it important for students to experience diversity within a school’s music program?
We have diverse student populations, and children deserve to learn about various musical traditions on equal footing with the classical traditions that have always been taught. And the great news is, there is room for it all! Our most recent information from the California Arts Dashboard shows that about 13% of our high school students are in traditional band and choir classes. We can keep these classes while also providing outlets that the other 87% might be interested in, too.
If students can experience standards-based music in a way that makes them feel connected and included, the more meaningful and effective our program will be.
Q: Music Education helps students master skills beyond playing an instrument. What types of skills do students develop through music programs?
Playing in an ensemble teaches communication, teamwork, leadership (including knowing when to take the lead and when to follow directions, which is a huge life skill), cooperation, grit, self-confidence, and community. It also helps students become smart consumers of music. Understanding how the music they listen to is constructed adds depth and meaning to the overall experience.
Q: How does being part of a music program foster creativity in students, and how does creativity contribute to overall student success?
A recent survey of Fortune 500 CEOs said that creativity was one of the top 5 skills they were looking for in new employees. We live in an age where everyone carries the entire written history of human knowledge in their pocket. Employers don’t need people who can memorize things that can be easily looked up. The workforce of tomorrow needs creative problem solvers, and being involved in the arts is one of the best ways to learn how to think outside the box.
Q: In your experience, what is the primary boundary students face as they enter a music program?
It used to be that the main barrier was financial. However, over the past 8-10 years, the district has made a coordinated effort to purchase musical instruments for each school so that nearly every student who wants to participate can without cost. We are still working on building our inventory, but we are very close to this goal.
The biggest barrier I see now is access. Students who struggle in their core classes aren’t always able to participate in music programs which often require them to miss class. One of the things we are looking at with our Strategic Arts Education Plan is making this more equitable so that all students can participate. Sometimes being involved in music is the thing that brings a child to school, so we want every student to have access.
Q: Do you have any exciting news that you can share related to the VAPA program’s goals?
I am excited that in the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to bring awareness to the fact that there are VAPA standards, and that VAPA is a required part of education in California EdCode. When we talk about our district vision for every student to meet grade level standards, I am happy that more people are realizing that the arts are a part of that, too!
Our district also has a committee made up of teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community members who helped draft MUSD’s first-ever Strategic Arts Education Plan. Once it’s complete, the plan will serve as a guide for the continued development and refinement of content, infrastructure, and sustainability of the entire VAPA program for all grade levels.
I’m also thrilled about the recent passage of Prop 28 and what that will mean for Manteca Unified! This initiative will bring millions of extra dollars to MUSD that will be dedicated to growing access to the arts for our students. We are still in the very early stages of figuring out how Prop 28 will work in practice, but when everything is fully implemented this is going to be a huge win for students having access to all the areas of the arts at all grade levels.
Do you know a student who is interested in music? Reach out to their school’s music teacher today!