Keep the Music Playing at City Honors

by / Mar. 7, 2018 7am EST

To the Buffalo Teachers Federation, Buffalo Public Schools, and all concerned:

My name is Isabel Urbanski-Farrell. I graduated City Honors in 2017 and am now in my second semester at Vassar College, a world-renowned institution that I am incredibly grateful to attend. When I heard that City Honors was transferring five and a half positions, including those of the band and orchestra teachers, there was no way I couldn’t speak up. I know that the Buffalo School System listens to the concerns of its members, so I sincerely hope that my words cause you to reconsider decisions made in these past weeks and months.

This is my point: There is no doubt that the availability of orchestra and band at City Honors helped me get to where I am today.

I started playing cello in fifth grade with Ms. Prokes and kept playing through two more teachers and seven more years. I absolutely loved it. Even the early morning practices in high school were a welcome break from the academic pressure placed on students at City Honors. I wrote about playing cello in my college essay, the one that got me accepted into the Vassar College Class of 2021. Specifically, I wrote about how playing cello in my school’s orchestra motivated me to work with and for others in my eventual career. It gave me so much joy to be able to make music in school with other students.

I know three students from my graduating class who, because in large part of their involvement with the City Honors music department, are attending college in order to pursue careers in music education themselves, including Karly Masters who is currently studying at Ithaca College’s prestigious School of Music. No doubt the City Honors band and orchestra have influenced many more students over the years. For all the positive influence the music department has had on me and students like me, it’s unbelievable to imagine it will be gone in less than a month. The BTF’s interest the welfare of students along with the BPS’s persistence and commitment to addressing important issues gives me hope that this situation won’t just be pushed aside.

You simply cannot take away band and orchestra for the more than 1,000 City Honors School students, certainly not in the middle of the school year with less than two months’ notice. Every student at every one of our public schools deserves the chance to participate in an instrumental music program. If I never had the chance to participate in orchestra, I wouldn’t have had a place in school where I could freely create. I wouldn’t ever have picked up a cello. I wouldn’t be a part of the wonderful band and orchestra community at CHS. I wouldn’t have performed in Albany or at Collage. I wouldn’t have considered a career in music. I wouldn’t have performed on a stage, period. My experiences with the music department at City Honors are such a large part of my personal history. Think of the opportunities you would be denying to young people! I likely do not have to remind anyone that band and orchestra studies, learning an instrument, have been positively correlated with better performance in school. Just in case, here are a fraction of the available statistics and studies showing a positive correlation:

From the NAMM Foundation website (

● Schools that have music programs have an attendance rate of 93.3% compared to 84.9% in schools without music programs (The National Association for Music Education. “Music Makes the Grade.” The National Association for Music Education. Accessed February 24, 2015).

● Research at McGill University in Montreal, Canada showed that grade-school kids who took music lessons scored higher on tests of general and spatial cognitive development, the abilities that form the basis for performance in math and engineering (

● A study of almost one thousand Finnish pupils who took part in extended music classes found they reported higher satisfaction at school in almost every area, even those not related to the music classes themselves (Eerola & Eerola, “Extended music education enhances the quality of school life,” Music Education Research, 2013).

● Musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics, and IQ (Dr. Laurel Trainor, Prof. of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behavior at McMaster University, 2006).

● Music education sharpens student attentiveness and equips students to be creative (Arts Education Partnership, 2011).

● Everyday listening skills are stronger in musically-trained children than in those without music training. Significantly, listening skills are closely tied to the ability to: perceive speech in a noisy background, pay attention, and keep sounds in memory (Strait, D.L. and N. Kraus, Biological impact of auditory expertise across the life span: musicians as a model of auditory learning. Hearing Research, 2013.)

● Music and math are highly intertwined. By understanding beat, rhythm, and scales, children are learning how to divide, create fractions, and recognize patterns (Lynn Kleiner, founder of Music Rhapsody in Redondo Beach, CA).

● Music training not only helps children develop fine motor skills, but aids emotional and behavioral maturation as well, according to a new study, one of the largest to investigate the effects of playing an instrument on brain development (Amy Ellis Nutt, “Music lessons spur emotional and behavioral growth in children, new study says,” The Washington Post, January 7, 2015).

● Taking music lessons offers a space where kids learn how to accept and give constructive criticism, according to research published in The Wall Street Journal in 2014 (Joanne Lipman, “A Musical Fix for American Schools,” The Wall Street Journal, October 10, 2014).

● Group classes require peer interaction and communication, which encourage teamwork, as children must collaborate to create a crescendo or an accelerando (Kristen Regester, Early Childhood Program Manager at Sherwood Community Music School at Columbia College Chicago. Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation).

● Playing an instrument teaches kids to persevere through hours, months, and sometimes years of practice before they reach specific goals, such as performing with a band or memorizing a solo piece (Mary Larew, Suzuki violin teacher at the Neighborhood Music School in New Haven, Connecticut. Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation).

● More benefits of music for children include learning cooperation, sharing, compromise, creativity, and concentration — skills that become invaluable as they enter school, face new challenges, and begin to form new friendships and develop social skills (© 2015 Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS), a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization).

● Kids who make music have been shown to get along better with classmates and have fewer discipline problems. More of them get into their preferred colleges, too (

Removing these resources will negatively impact students. I urge the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation and Buffalo Public School administrators to reconsider their decision and come to an agreement that is not to the detriment of the students I know we all want to help.

Isabel Urbanski-Farrell is a City Honors School alumna who studies at Vassar College.