FOCUS ON ADVOCACY: Using No Music to Create an Awareness Campaign on “The Day the Music Died”

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Now more than ever before it is vital for all music teachers and community members to be proactive about promoting the benefits of having a music program in their schools. In Pennsylvania, as in many other states, any subject not currently being tested and assessed through Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) or a similar body may be cut or even eliminated from the school curriculum during times of budget constraint.

Though it may seem obvious to visitors to this website, it’s extremely important to speak out about the value of a high quality, sequential music education program taught by certified music educators.

On March 31, advocates in eastern Pennsylvania used a novel approach to inform community members and local leaders about the benefits of music education. They called their music advocacy day for public school students around the region “The Day the Music Died,”  and the idea got rolling when budget cuts took away the elementary Band and String program at Twin Valley School District in Berks County. Teachers and students throughout that school district – and beyond – decided to find out exactly how much music impacted their lives. 

They discovered that music is a part of everyone's life.

The Challenge: Go 24 hours without hearing or making music of any kind! 

Think you could do it? This means no radio, no television, no CD's, no mp3's, no iPods, no practicing, no news programs, no movies……no life! Can you survive in a world without music? Possibly. The real question is: would you want to?

The idea quickly spread throughout Berks County public schools, and then throughout eastern Pennsylvania, thanks to several key music associations. The Music Educators of Berks County (MEBC) and the District 10 Pennsylvania Music Educator’s Association (PMEA), made up of schools from the seven counties of Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, Pike and Schuylkill, all helped to publicize it. At least 20 public school districts in a seven county area participated.

Student members of the TwinValley Tri-M Music Honor Society designed and printed t-shirts with the help of their Visual Communications teacher: the shirt featured the musical symbol for “pause” on the front and “The Day the Music Died, Protect Music in our Schools” on the back. Students also made buttons and distributed them to be worn on the day of the event. Even students who didn’t participate realized how music is woven into virtually every part of their lives. Every time they heard music that day, their awareness of music was heightened.

“The main purpose of the day was to teach non-musicians about how entrenched music is in their lives,” said Long, “but it served the same purpose for those of us who participate in music on a regular basis. I caught myself whistling or humming at least twenty times that day, and the students were also amazed at how frequently they thought about music. We learned that even those of us who love music and practice it daily often take it for granted.”

Structuring a Day without Music

At Twin Valley High School, music lessons that day consisted of showing woodwind students how to take apart, clean and oil their key mechanisms properly. Brass players learned how to clean and lubricate their horns properly as well. During rehearsal times, students discussed how the day was going and what the hardest part of the day was for each of them. Students wrote persuasive essays about music and why it’s important to them to have it in the schools.

One local community arts support group, The Reading Musical Foundation (RMF) even supported “The Day The Music Died” with advertising and by sponsoring an essay contest for middle school students. Several schools took advantage of the RMF student essay contest – here are a few quotes:

        • “This experience has opened my eyes and showed me how much music has an impact on our everyday lives.”

        • “Many people do not realize the importance or the deep integration of music in our society. We are a musically centered race, from the constant beat of our hearts to the rhythm of our feet as we walk. Music is everywhere. Shouldn’t it be kept and treasured in the public school system?”

        • “Music is what connects humanity. Music transcends every imagined barrier of race, culture or religion.”

        • “A day without music is one of the worst days ever. It’s very boring and feels lifeless or barren.”

While the day was positively oriented, some local schools refused to allow their teachers and students to participate. These schools were cutting or reducing music education offerings, and their administrators saw the event as a defiant move. In addition, one newspaper article presented the event as a social protest activity, instead of focusing on its intended purpose to build awareness about the value of music and music education.

Long says, however, that most people who participated did so with a sense of curiosity and interest. “The students really got into the spirit of ‘The Day The Music Died’ and will certainly be strong adult supporters of the arts as future parents. I think the key to stopping the senseless cutting of arts programs is to educate the community about the power of the arts. These students ‘got it’ and were not shy about sharing that viewpoint with others. Can you tell I'm proud of them?”

-- Daniel M. Long is a music teacher and Fine Arts Department Chair at Twin Valley High School, Elverson, PA. He can be reached at