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Not so ‘Glee’-ful

BY PATRICK BIGSBY | OCTOBER 08, 2009 7:20 AM

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Last week, my esteemed colleague Melea Andrys (hi, boss) wrote an adept, passionate evaluation of Fox’s show choir dramedy “Glee.” Andrys addressed the show’s kitschy appeal, catchy musical numbers, and, perhaps most importantly, her personal connection to the show’s characters and plot lines. Much like Melea, I’ll receive a bachelor’s of music in May, and I have my own dorky musical past, present, and future. However, unlike my favorite editor, I consider “Glee” a grim indictment instead of a cheery celebration.

The acting is amateurish, and the dialogue is a showcase of all things trite. The lip-synching, high-school clichés, and cheesy, overdone song selections insult viewers. But a self-proclaimed “Gleek” like Melea admits these faults, and even a skeptic like me would be forced to admit that these sorts of flaws are not peculiar to “Glee.” Other teen-oriented programs, even other critically acclaimed hits, have the same problems. It has become impossible to dramatize adolescence without referencing The Breakfast Club. My beef with “Glee” is its glorification of music’s role in general education.

Competitive show choir is an expensive undertaking. The cost of such a program typically includes a salary or stipend for one or more directors, purchasing a season’s worth of vocal arrangements, an extensive wardrobe selection, various music and dance consultants’ fees, travel expenses, and who knows what else. For this reason, show choir, like other school music programs, is a frivolous use of School District resources that is either a decadent display of wealth by the richest schools or a squandered opportunity to enhance the core curriculum by those struggling to make ends meet.

Before other musicians accuse me of being a turncoat, allow me to briefly touch on my background. I have been a lifelong music student, am fortunate to regularly perform as a semiprofessional musician, and would not be the same person without the guidance and tutelage of numerous music educators. Let me condition that statement with a truism: In addition to being a lifelong music student, I have been a lifelong student. Music may be the food of love, but the ability to write clearly and comprehend mathematical logic is crucial to academic and professional success. Unfortunately, some of my musically inclined high-school peers and School of Music classmates have proven to be deficient in those key scholastic areas.

More than 1,000 miles away, this August marked the first year in its 40 years of existence that my high school did not have a band. Because of budget constraints, the high-school band, of which I was a member, and which accrued numerous state championships in the last eight years, was eliminated.

While this decision is disappointing, the district made the right call in choosing to maintain a strong core curriculum that has produced high standardized test scores and an enviable college-acceptance rate. These factors raise the profile of the School District, which contributes to property values, ultimately providing a tax base that can someday support and re-establish a championship-caliber music program.

On “Glee,” McKinley High School is under similar budget pressures, and the main characters have alluded to the school’s poor college-placement numbers among graduates. Creating a competitive show choir out of nothing is unfeasible and fiscally irresponsible. “Glee” might be good fun, but its popularity will pressure struggling schools into keeping costly music programs at the expense of general education.


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