Typically, a Berkeley Unified School District student takes their first music class in third grade, learning how to play the recorder. In fourth and fifth grades, students can select an instrument from a range of brass, woodwind and string instruments. However, as students enter middle school and high school, less participate in BUSD music classes.
BHS senior Quinn Schwartzburg is one of the students who didn’t continue with music in middle school. In fourth and fifth grade, Schwartzburg selected the trombone because, “it was very fun to play and it felt a lot more heavy and real than the other instruments.”
However, Schwartzburg found these music classes unhelpful at times because of teaching methods. “They would give you a song to learn, and then they would go student by student starting from the top of the list alphabetically by last name and go to the bottom and my name is at the bottom every time,” Schwartzburg said. “I would always just not make it in time for whatever the cutoff was. So I never got any one-on-one help with teachers.”
What ultimately led Schwartzburg to quit music was the fact that classes weren’t required after elementary school and that music didn’t interest him. “I miss how it feels. I think it is fun, but at my age there’s too much pressure to be good at it. That it isn’t worth trying to pick back up,” Schwartzburg said.
Other musicians have reflected differently on their elementary and middle school music education. BHS senior Ruben Murillo began music first with the recorder, then the cello, and continues to play piano outside of school. According to Murillo, the cello had “a satisfying sound” and “playing as a group was really fun.”
Murillo found that the fourth and fifth grade music classes were helpful because they eased students into their instruments, starting with the basics, and then moving to the harder stuff. “I never really got crazy at it, but I definitely was not bad either,” Murillo said.
Murillo continued with cello in middle school, where he took zero period orchestra classes. However, he decided to stop with cello during the pandemic when he was entering his freshman year. “I quit playing cello because it became more of a chore. During quarantine it was like, ‘I gotta log into Zoom and do cello now.’ It became something that I had to do rather than something I wanted to do,” Murillo said.
Despite quitting cello, Murillo continues to play piano outside of school, which is a little easier because of the musical knowledge he had from playing cello.
According to Murillo, the skill of the two instruments was mutualistic. “There are similarities because it was easier to learn about chords and stuff (from the) keys on piano because I can actually see it and then I could translate it to cello. Also, reading music and the bass clef was easier on piano because I knew how to read on cello. Knowing both of those instruments helped each other out,” Murillo said.
BHS senior Dylan Olivares played trumpet in elementary school, and has since continued with other instruments outside of school. On top of this, he currently sings in chorus. However, at the time Olivares didn’t feel inspired by fourth and fifth grade music classes, “Weirdly enough, I think back then, I didn’t really care about music. It just wasn’t really something that was passionate for me,” Olivares said.
Olivares stopped with trumpet in sixth grade, when he switched to chorus. “I had to force myself to practice, it wasn’t like a thing I actively went and sought out … and sixth grade is when I started doing chorus, which I think is my true music passion, just singing … but I kind of wish I kept playing trumpet because it was pretty cool,” Olivares said.
Even though many didn’t continue with instruments they chose in elementary school, some felt inspired by the BUSD music program to continue pursuing music in other ways. “(The) music program is great. That’s a good thing to have, especially for children,” Olivares said.