Time For Branford High To Strike Up The Band—And The Orchestra

“I believe 100 percent in the power and importance of music,” said the musician James Taylor. His simple statement declares the utmost truth about the relationship between music and developmental growth—both as a person and a musician. So why is it that at Branford High School the music program is being run into the ground?

Could part of the reason be because of the attitude of high school students towards the program as a whole? Is it because of the miniscule funding and attention this program receives from the Board of Education? Is it because of music director Ted Samodel?  Regrettably, all of these reasons play a role in the current status of the instrumental high school music program.
As one of three student members of the Board of Education for the past two years, I have not heard the troubles of the music program mentioned once. My guess would be it hasn’t been brought up because people assume you mean the high school choir when you say “music” program. We all know of the high school Choir’s success and it’s almost as if that makes up for the fact the band and orchestra program problems are being swept under the rug.

In the last few years there has been an 80 percent decline in the instrument music program, one parent said.  Students come into high school eager to continue playing. Then they drop out of the band or the orchestra.  How is it possible that this could be overlooked by high school officials or the school superintendent or by the music director?

The school orchestra currently consists of seven members—with one who just quit. A small orchestra needs at least 41 players. The largest orchestras have 96 members.  How can an orchestra perform with so few students?  The school band has 15 members. Why is it that these students keep quitting (to the point where there really is no band or orchestra?) Has anyone stopped to ask why? A student, who wished not to be named, explained her reason for quitting after only a year in the program.

“I quit because the music wasn’t anything that would enhance my music skills or make me better. The environment in which the teacher created was unfriendly and made me dread going to class.”

The same student later went on to mention that this unfriendly environment included ridiculing students who were a few minutes late to class, or forcing students to make public apologies if they could not attend an event. 

I asked Samodel several times if I could interview him about the band and orchestra classes. After apologizing for a delay in answering, he said:  “I would prefer not to comment on any of the items you referred to in your previous email.” He thanked me for giving him the opportunity to respond.

One student, junior Tom Quagliano, who feels quite passionate about this whole situation, spoke out in favor of an intervention. Qualigiano, who takes an AP music theory class outside of school, plays violin for the school’s orchestra.

“Every single year, I see this program depleting and it is just absurd. The fact is that every one of my friends that I used to play music with has quit. 

“This especially includes the orchestra program,” Tom said.  The orchestra program is an actual class. He said Samodel, his teacher, does not play a string instrument, and as a result he cannot teach him.  “The Strings program has been up for cutting too many times. It is not fair for the people in Band and Orchestra who wish to major in this field to be in such a predicament. We should have a teacher and program that can provide an education. Branford’s school motto is “Improved Learning for Everyone.” This seems to be missing in our instrumental program. We are not asking for any special treatment, just for someone to care about our situation.”

There are other problems, too. The fact that students do not have proper uniforms causes feelings of embarrassment and resentment. Tom’s mother, Jacqueline Polverari, said in a letter published in a local newspaper that she had tried for the last two years to find a way to raise funds for band uniforms.   
Polverari was willing to take up a fundraising campaign for band uniforms.  She said unfortunately Samodel turned down her request, claiming “he didn’t have the time.” Parents, she said, were deeply upset that they could not convince the music director to help them. At one point in its history, Branford High School did have uniforms for the band, she said. She noted that Branford is one of the only towns on the shoreline where the band program does not have uniforms. 

A student who did not wish to be identified told me that Samodel was also “reluctant” to purchase gowns and tuxedos for formal orchestra concerts because of cost, though he later agreed to the purchase of two gowns for female soloists.

All of these issues—so insignificant to outsiders—-creates resentment between parents, school officials, the music director, students and the Board of Education. Without the proper recognition, communication, and mediation of this issue, no progress will be made and students will continue to suffer from a lack of direction.

Until the necessary action is taken, the music program is a ticking clock, with students watching in despair as their precious program spirals downwards. Soon it will be too late to save it. 

Polverari wrote publicly that she has “diligently been trying for two years to break through” to top school officials. She said in her letter that she has been ignored.  “I told them of the horrifying situation we have with this program and if it continues, all I can guarantee is there will be no instrumental music program at Branford High.”

Editor’s note: We welcome Jenna Grande, a senior at Branford High School, as our first high school intern.  This internship is her senior project, a requirement for all Branford High seniors. Jenna, who wants to become a reporter someday, will learn how to report and to write, and her stories will be published in the Eagle. As she put it, “I love writing and discussing current issues and I believe a fresh, new voice is necessary for understanding today’s generation. I want to be that voice. Here’s the high school as I see it.”


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posted by: LocalLaw on February 1, 2010  10:34am

Wow! What an incisive and well balanced article. How can we ignore this issue when it has been brought to our attention in such a thoughtful, articulate way. Ms Grande and her parents should be very proud.

posted by: warren on February 1, 2010  12:56pm

Good work, Jenna. You will make a positive difference for education in Branford. Very proud of you.

posted by: Ed Tankus on February 1, 2010  2:41pm

The problem to which Ms. Grande refers has been ongoing since my own daughters attended and graduated BHS in 2004 and in 2008.  The issues with Mr. Samodel were brought to the attention of school officials by parents and band students then many times but nothing was done.  My oldest daughter played viola for eight years.  She quit not only the viola after two years under Mr. Samodel but she quit music entirely.  My other daughter - like many coming up from the band at Walsh - refused to enroll in band because of Mr. Samodel.  She and others like her quit their instruments - and music - completely.  With no feeder program, it was just a matter of time before the band and orchestra died.  They are in their last gasps now. It’s time to either rectify the situation and remove Mr. Samodel from this situation or cut that program and remove him anyway.  One benefits the students and the other does not.  It’s time to err on the part of the students.

posted by: Anonymous on February 1, 2010  6:54pm

Frankly, I feel like we are all just blaming the depleting music program on the teacher, when it isn’t true. Sure the teacher could be a outspoken, but honestly students take it a bit too personally. Some students don’t want to join band because they have better things to do with their time, like sports, honors work, etc. or just the fact that they do not want to participate in the football games. Plus, did you ever think that the problem could be pre-high school? WIS band? Music theory isn’t taught at all there, so basically what you are doing is throwing a rabbit into the wolf’s den.

posted by: Jacqueline Polverari on February 1, 2010  10:04pm

I have to respond to “anonymous” as it is my duty as a parent to three wonderfully talented musicians that are in our school system.  I don’t feel as if students take it “too personally” if a teacher is, who you say “outspoken” or perhaps inappropriate and makes them feel “uncomfortable”.Obviously you are a student and you should know that it is the duty of the administration to foster a feeling of good self esteem and if a teacher is actually doing the opposite that is simply not ok.  How can you state that the kids take it too personally?  But then again, you have not signed your name for fear of?If the problem was “pre-high school” solely then why do 40% of the kids who do sign up for band or orchestra quit after the first year under this teacher?  You also stated that Music Theory isn’t taught at all at WIS, I didnt realize it was offered at BHS this year?  Because it simply wasn’t.  This teacher needs to be “reeled” in as he has been given to much authority and has not been monitored as to his inappropriate behaviour in many different aspects.Music makes any child “whole”.  I agree with Ed that either way, this needs to be rectified.  I personally am quite tired and exhausted in battling the same battle for 2 years with the ONLY expense being to the kids who truly love music.  And what about the kids who want to pursue Music at a college level?This Music situation is a major issue and I really would hope that not only ALL parents but the citizens of Branford get involved with this.  So many questions have gone unanswered.

In closing, I dont think that anyone is throwing a rabbit into a wolf’s den, I think that the rabbit needs to be accountable for his actions or at least do some explaining to the taxpayers that pay his salary.  If it is the program than Mr. Samodel would invite parents in with open arms to help correct the problem, but that is simply not the case here.   

posted by: Anonymous on February 2, 2010  4:51pm

There are three reasons why I did not sign my name. One is because I never sign my name to anything on the internet, I simply don’t trust it. Two is because I don’t want to label myself. And three is, yes I admit it, because of fear. Fear of my peers (who disagree with me) ridiculing me.

I have nothing against the author or the way she writes (please do not think as if I am attacking you), but the reason why I am so against this article is because it is as if we are saying there is just one problem that could be making the orchestra and band program decline. Yes, the teacher has his problems, he has his views, and that could be one of the reasons why the orchestra and band program is slipping downhill. However it is not the only problem.

The class Music Theory was not taught at BHS this year, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get music theory in orchestra or band class. I know that when I came up to the high school I knew nothing about scales, the circle of fifths, ombisher(sp?), tonguing, what an arpeggio was, and much more. By rabbit I was referring to the new students, not the teacher. I am sure it scares them half to death when they come to the high school, thinking they know how to play their instrument and then they hear about playing in tune, tonguing, scales, and even the correct fingering on their instrument. For example one drummer joined band this year, tried it out for a day, and then quit because reading music was a problem. Middle school is when most students pick up their instruments, and that is when they should be taught this, not four years later. And I am sure this is not the only reason.

I do really not want to get into an argument in the comments. I am not saying we should keep the music program as it is, something should be done. But honestly, writing in the comment section in an article is not going to do much. What should be done is getting student’s opinions on this whole matter, and not just one side of the opinion. If they are the ones taking the class and they feel this passionate about it they should be writing the articles, just like Jenna.

posted by: Something to think about. on February 2, 2010  6:04pm

I agree with Anonymous.
Get student’s opinions, without peer pressure.

posted by: jaqu1966 on February 2, 2010  8:35pm

Very good food for thought - Anonymous.  I think we can easily loose sight of many, many issues - however lets not loose sight of the facts.  To me this article was written wonderfully without prejudice.

posted by: Giovanni Esposito on February 2, 2010  11:11pm

Unlike my peer who prefers to remain anonymous, I feel no need to do the same. I am open about my feelings towards the band/orchestra program and am willing to explain them and, if necessary, defend them to anyone who disagrees with them.

Before I start, I want to thank Jenna for writing this article. The problem with the Instrumental Music department at BHS is one that definitely needs to be addressed, and Jenna did this in a very thorough way. Bravo.

Now. My main reaction to this article is one of self-pity. As the only senior in the instrumental music program, I have spent the last three and a half years getting to know Mr. Samodel. It has been a pleasure to take band since my freshman year. There is nothing wrong with Mr. Samodel’s teaching style, and I can confidently say that the band would not be able to function half as well as it does without him. I understand the plight of the Orchestra members who are taught by a wind musician and, therefore, cannot be taught the expert stringed-instrument knowledge that a professional string player would have. But that is not Mr. Samodel’s fault. If we must point fingers, we must look to our budget, which doesn’t allow enough money for the program to account for $30 subscriptions to SmartMusic, let alone another teacher’s salary. How can we bring in another music teacher to teach Strings when money for the Arts is being cut in greater amounts every year? It is, regrettably, the way of our town to let music fall by the wayside. In other towns in the area, like Guilford and East Haven for example, it would be unimaginable to undercut funding from the Music program. To my great dismay, and to the dismay of others, this opinion is not shared by the Board of Finance. But without a large donation to help carry us through, or a major change in the opinions of our legislators, the Instrumental Music program and the Arts as a whole will continue to suffer.

As a member of the Concert Band, I have first hand knowledge as to how the class operates. To start, let me direct your attention to the problem of numbers. The problem with instrumental music in Branford is rooted much more deeply than some people care to admit. To say that the problem is only in the High School is absurd. Middle school musicians that don’t sign up for high school band have any number of reasons for not continuing. Many are enticed by the seemingly endless amount of electives at the high school and are just more interested in taking Cooking or Photography than to continue with their instruments. Another possibility that we must consider is that some of the kids at WIS simply don’t enjoy playing. In an overwhelming amount of cases, students are forced by their parents to take band, and so resent the instrument, rather than learn to enjoy it. When High School course selection comes around, they beg and plead with their parents to take another course rather than stick with their dreaded instruments, and so do not continue. When only two freshmen made their way into the Band room this year, it is absolutely impossible to say that the blame lies with the high school program. You cannot drive a car without refilling its gas tank, and so a band program cannot flourish without new members to replace the graduating seniors. The high school program is, if you will, killed in the cradle, and there is nothing the program at the high school (or its instructor) can do about it. The problem, then, must lie with the foundation of musical knowledge and appreciation, and so we must amend the music programs of the elementary and middle schools if we wish to see any improvements in the high school program. Although in past years, many students have left the high school program itself, the majority of trained instrumentalists in the WIS band never even join the high school band. Therefore, we must look beyond the high school Concert Band and Orchestra to get to the bottom of our suffering instrumental music department.

Finally, having a class with Mr. Samodel has taught me more than just simply how to play music. Not only does Mr. Samodel teach us to foster a love of music, he also teaches us all valuable life skills; the biggest of which is responsibility. When we look to a high school with a large concert band of, say, 100 people, we can assume that there will be several people playing the same part. There will be multiple people playing a Clarinet 1 part, a few kids to play the Alto Saxophone 2 part, and a handful of trumpeters to play each of the four Trumpet parts in a typical concert band march. However, the Branford program does not have these comfort in numbers. Having a sixteen piece band helps to teach responsibility because when there are so few players, each person is responsible for his or her own part. In the Saxophone section for example, each of the five sax players have their own, individual part to learn, prepare, and perform. When one person does not know his or her part well enough, there are no other players to hide behind or use as a crutch, as there are in larger bands. Each person is responsible for knowing his or her part, because if he or she doesn’t, then it will affect the outcome of the entire band. I am aware of this, Mr. Samodel is aware of this, and each member of the band is aware of this. In class, Mr. Samodel expects us to know our part. If we don’t, he tells us. Just as an academic class has homework to be done outside of the classroom, band requires practicing and preparation to be done outside. To say that Mr. Samodel is reacting inappropriately when students are not prepared is the same thing as writing an angry letter to Mr. Panagoulias because a math teacher gave your child detention for not doing his homework over the course of a month. No one acting rationally would do that, and so no one acting rationally should behave uproariously about Mr. Samodel’s reaction to an unprepared student. As long as each band member knows their music, rehearsals will go smoothly, and no one will have to feel bad when they are told they are messing up. Mr. Samodel, as a band director and conductor, has the painful job of telling each musician where he or she makes a mistake. It is then the responsibility of the musician to practice the particular piece of music until that mistake is not repeated. When a band member fails to fulfill this responsibility, everyone else in the band can tell. As a sixteen person band, we are all responsible to play our parts correctly, and to practice the music that we cannot play correctly until we are familiar with it enough that it is no longer an issue. As an older student, I have been on the receiving ends of this constructive criticism, but I have taken it to heart and have done my best to learn that part that I am responsible for. I have no problems with the way Mr. Samodel runs his classes, and can only thank him for treating us like the adults that high school students want to be treated like. For our band to operate smoothly and to perform as well as we do, it takes the diligent concentration of each of the band members, and Mr. Samodel’s guidance makes this concentration all the more easier. Mr. Samodel is one of my favorite teachers throughout all of high school, and the Branford High School Concert Band program would not be nearly as good as it is today without his excellent leadership and take-charge attitude.

I realize this isn’t exactly a reaction to the article per se, but these are my feelings on the subject of the diminishing band program. I hope these comments can help give another perspective on the issue.

posted by: sarah on February 2, 2010  11:40pm

At WIS, I was completely enthralled with music—the teacher who was there (he’s since retired) went out of his way to make my experience enriching and great.  When I did my senior project in Music, it was he who helped me get all of my work together, not Mr. Samodel. 

To be totally frank, studying with Mr. Samodel was overall a terrible experience—my self esteem was crushed as was my desire to participate in the orchestra.  I did in fact leave the group before I graduated, and if I hadn’t gone out of my way to find a teacher outside of school who could instill some excitement and confidence in me, I definitely wouldn’t have gone on to study music in college.  Since graduating, I have become a music teacher myself, and I have some pretty clear sight about what Mr. Samodel has done to the once vibrant instrumental community at Branford High.  It’s simply astounding that this teacher continues to teach music at Branford, and I sincerely hope that this problem is addressed soon—enough students have had miserable experiences, and it doesn’t need to be this way. 

Thanks so much, Jenna, for putting this well written article out there.  This kind of thing needs to be publicly addressed, and you have done a great job!  Thank you!

posted by: jaqu1966 on February 3, 2010  10:49am

This is addressed to Geo, I think that you are absolutly right on target when you refer to budget cuts.  I also think you are very mislead as to what Jenna’s article is about.  It is not a “bashing” of any teacher.  Quite frankly this isnt about if Mr. Samodel is a nice guy or not.  The inappropriate behaviour is also not about his teaching but the emotional aspect to things as well as certain various things that go above and beyond and perhaps you are not aware of.  I do commend you that you are defending a teacher that you have had a positive experience with and I am impressed highly that you are willing to state your opinion and fight for what you believe is right.  More kids should be like you. This article obviously touched a VERY sensitive nerve with many people.  Unfortunatly I think you might be the minority as to your feelings toward the teacher.  However, any one’s personal feelings toward him shouldn’t matter as I dont think you are seeing the FACTS here.  It is absolutly inappropriate to have a prayer group in the band room and then advertise it on the band website.  It is absolutly inappropriate to tell kids they are an embarrassment.  It is absolutly inappropriate to make a kid stand up in front of a class and apologize to the class because he had a prior commitment before a concert and could not attend.  The list continues to go on and on with many FACTUAL things regarding the inappropriateness of this teacher.  I think as parents our job is too keep our children safe, healthy and happy.  When their self esteem is knocked down to a point they arent happy it affects their health and therefore they become unsafe.  That is a FACTUAL problem here.
I think as a community we need to focus on turning this program around and NOT focus on the negative right now.  Lets leave the personnel issues up to the Board of Education and The Superintendant.  Becuase unfortunatly we learn in life that we can fight and fight but somehow when politics are involved the fight goes unwinable. As far as the program… There are proactive kids that are trying to jumpstart this program again… why are you not involved?  If you love music and the program and Mr. Samodel then why not be involved in supporting and backing the program?  We have started a Branford Music Parents Association and have had meetings.  We have talked about fundraising and getting together a concert inviting Mr. Samodel as the guest of honor with the all the kids that have quit.  He have talked about uniforms.  NEVER once at our meetings do we talk about anything negative or Mr. Samodel at all.  But yet you have not attended one meeting?  If you are so behind Mr. Samodel and the Program, which I believe you are you should really be a senior role model and back this cause. It would be nice to see you voice your opinion in a positive way to help the program.  I think it would benefit greatly to see you at our meetings.  All this back and forth on blog isn’t getting the program anywhere.  Our next meeting is next Tuesday at 7:00, place to be determined.  It would be wonderful for you to attend.

Jacquie Polverari

posted by: Julie Schwartz on February 3, 2010  10:58am

Welcome Jenna to the world of journalism.  I read your article with great interest. Living in West Hartford, it’s hard to believe that instrumental music isn’t a vital part of your program.  The arts is synonymous with West Hartford. West Hartford introduces instrumental music in the elementary schools and makes sure that its interest is sustained throughout middle and high school.  Students strive to make the inter-elementary program where they rehearse with fifth graders from all the elementary schools in town for a season finale concert at the Bushnell in Hartford.  This continues in middle school where jazz bands and select groups play at local venues and Celebrate! West Hartford (similar to the Branford festival).  Once in high school, students have the opportunity to play in the prestigious concert jazz band or I Giovani Solisti, an elite string orchestra. We have wonderful, dedicated music instructors who encourage the best from the students.  These teachers have been employed by West Hartford for many years.  Parents strongly support the music program.  Opportunities for recognition are around every corner.  I guess I am a strong advocate of good instrumental music programs because my daughter plays the flute in the jazz band at Hall High School.  Her dedication to the instrument is in part due to the opportunities that West Hartford has provided.  Music brings joy and direction not only to the students, but to the community as well.  Branford needs to take a look at West Hartford to see how much music is a part of our town.

posted by: Utterly amazed on February 3, 2010  5:26pm

What an incredible diatribe you are all engaged in; if this is indicative of Branford residents or as parents as a whole, shame on us all!
So much of this banter, with the exception of the young man (Gio?) who offered a well written and kind testimony, is poisonously negative and doesn’t seem to be the benevolent effort any of the authors seem to think. And as far as the article itself being a “balanced” argument, it is anything BUT that; and we commend this young author for this?

After reading this mess by chance, the clear impression I get is that you are all involved in some sort of torch-carrying blood hunt against this teacher…not “support of a music program”.

I happen to know this teacher and he is a well-known, well-respected music educator and performer on a CT state-wide level. Perhaps you should all seek to observe him first-hand in the classroom or with a performing group before you entertain some of these oft over-sensitive gripes of (their) kids who don’t seem to like being challenged with their improvement needs as a musician. Good teachers point out strengths AS WELL AS weaknesses and show students how to overcome the weaknesses. Especially in a group setting, that’s called GROWTH.

I’ve said enough, but it needed to be said, however removed I am from this situation on a first-hand level. Again, if this is how Branford will behave when they don’t get what they want, shame on us all indeed.

posted by: Eric Nemarich on February 3, 2010  5:43pm

First of all, I have to mention that I’ve never been in the BHS band program. I was a member of choir for two years, but I had to drop out in my junior year due to a heavy course load. However, music has remained a vibrant part of my life, so I feel I have a right to give my two cents on the issue.

Credit, of course, is due to Jenna for this excellent article - it’s clear, elegantly written, and it lays out the straight facts. All are hallmarks of fine journalism. I second Gio: Bravo, Jenna.

Mr. Samodel is an accomplished musician - no matter how anyone spins “the facts,” he is entirely qualified to teach music at BHS. I remember watching the (now defunct) BHS Jazz Band as a bright-eyed ten-year-old and being absolutely stunned by its level of talent and enthusiasm. BHS has had a history of talented musicians (Charlie Sneath, anyone?), and only recently has the program begun its precipitous decline. It should be clear that Mr. Samodel is not the source of the problem. He is, rather, a victim. He’s had his program stripped to the bone. He’s been forced to work part-time at WIS. And he must now manage an absurdly small band/orchestra with an equally pathetic budget. It’s quite understandable that he hasn’t got the time to organize a fundraiser.

Now, I’ll admit that much of the behavior described by Mrs. Polverari is pushing the limit. However, one must consider the stress that comes with conducting an unusually small band. If a player can’t attend a concert due to a prior engagement, then Mr. Samodel has every right to call him/her out for not planning beforehand (as I assume a schedule of concert dates is distributed early in the year). And if a player hasn’t practiced his/her part, then the band suffers tremendously; once again, Mr. Samodel has every right to demand an apology. That’s life, folks: you make a mistake, you get reamed out, and you strive to avoid the mistake in the future. Gio’s math teacher analogy is fairly apt; however, it should be noted that a math teacher does not have to put on concerts. (Also, math teachers typically aren’t struggling with massive budget cuts.) Let’s face it: Mr. Samodel is getting some undeserved heat. Can you say “scapegoat?”

I’ve been a member of the BHS pit band since freshman year. Mr. Samodel is the assistant conductor/lead trumpet, and although we’ve certainly had our moments, my overall impression of him continues to be that of a talented, organized, and levelheaded musician. I’m not playing the devil’s advocate. These are simply “facts.”

If you want to tackle the problem, talk with Mr. Panagoulias. Continue holding meetings. Seek outside support for your cause - from other CT music educators, for example. Devote some energy to remedying the situation at Walsh. However, Gio and I can’t do much; we’re full-time students, and our number one priority is our coursework. Don’t hold us to an impossible standard, and don’t play the “Well I don’t see YOU doing anything” card. That’s just uncalled for. (Also, I should note that Gio isn’t a parent…as far as I know.)

So, in conclusion: great article, misdirected response. The problem lies with the Board of Finance, and they’re likely to continue digging their heels until someone sucks it up and makes a stand (à la Mr. Holland’s Opus). I’ve always been a fan of music, and I’d hate to see the BHS band program spiral into oblivion due to something as ridiculous as budget cuts. (I recommend that we cut out the Senior Ex and funnel the spare money into the music program, but that’s just personal preference.)

posted by: Something to think about. on February 3, 2010  6:11pm

“It is absolutly inappropriate to have a prayer group in the band room and then advertise it on the band website.”

WHAT"S UP WITH THAT jaqu19666???  Can you explain more in detail???????????????????

posted by: Michelle Johansen on February 3, 2010  8:19pm

I have to say that I have read the article and also the response’s.  With the exception of “Utterly Amazed” who obvioulsy has no clue as to what this is about or what she/he is talking about, I can see both sides.  I think that Ms. Polverari has been articulate and appears very concerned and “bravo” to her for stepping up to a disgruntle crowd.  This needed to be done.  I dont think I have once heard her say a bad thing about this teacher except for what appears to be factual statements.  I also think that it is quite obvious that there will be student conflict over this as I am sure there are a few students that do have a positive situation with this teacher - like the 2 that wrote.

But I also can tell you that I also have first hand knowledge of being in Mr. Samodel’s classroom.  I had him when I was in my freshman year in band and I quit during my sophmore year.  No one is saying that Mr. Samodel isn’t qualified to teach, no one is saying he isn’t a good trumpet player, because he boasted about himself so much in class how could you not know he is good.  This is more about how he treats the students I think and what is best for the music program not about him personally.  I was ridiculed because I didnt play up to his standards (which I assume Geo? and anonymous? probably do).  Every kid who didnt play up to his standards were ridiculed and not in a constructive critism way at all.  My self esteem was torn down to nothing and I never played my instrument again.  I regret that.  I only hope that they replace this teach before he can do to me what he is apparently still doing to the students who may not be the best instrumentalist but love to play despite the fact.  VERY SAD that a town wouldnt want the best for the students emotionally as well as academically.

posted by: Patricia Liu on February 3, 2010  10:40pm

First off, a tip of the hat to Jenna for an insightful article on a topic that has long floated around the BHS music department and, until now, has not made its escape into the ‘real world.’

In response to user “Utterly amazed,” I am inclined to believe that the unbalance of Jenna’s article is not reflective of good journalism. It is directly reflective of the circumstances. Ted Samodel could have offered his commentary in response to these scathing criticisms offered by parents and students. Yet, he declined to respond. The so-called ‘bias’ reflected in this article is a product of a lack of response on the part of Mr. Samodel, and an abundance of response on the part of students and teachers. What would be considered better journalism: reporting on the facts and opinions offered to the reporter, or simply floundering for contrived opinions for the sole purpose of making the ‘pro’ and ‘con’ columns look uniform?

Kudos to Jenna for an excellently written article. You have done our school proud.

Now. Like Eric, I have never participated in the BHS instrumental program. Rather, I am currently a member of BHS’ comparatively reputable choir and theatre program—the ‘undamaged half’ of the music program, as it has once been called. The spoiled half. While the instrumental program is condemned to relative anonymity and a practice room with poor temperature control, I’m one of the 150 kids flying off to Italy in two months. I’m one of the 60 kids on stage being applauded by an audience of hundreds for six performances in a row. In response to Mrs. Schwartz’s (borderline troll-ish) comment, Branford’s music program is anything but the poor, starved mess that it is made out to be.

And it is on the decline. Not just the instrumental program; I believe that that point has been discussed quite thoroughly already. The choir program. The theatre program. The ‘good part’ of the program. And its decline is due to the exact same reason why the instrumental program has degenerated to this stage.

I’m sure that Mrs. Roding might not be happy with me putting these facts out on a public discussion forum, but in order to present this issue adequately, I feel the need to reveal what’s really going on behind the BHS curtains.

Only five boys signed up for freshman choir this year. The figures for next year’s freshman choir look even bleaker.  And, believe it or not, interest is dying. Consider the class of 2010. Currently, there are precisely two students who intend on pursuing music in college. I am one of these students, and I am considering a minor in music in conjunction with a major in journalism. The amount of dedicated students with a serious interest in music is on the decline. And this might be an extremely subjective observation (although it is one shared by many other students, parents, and faculty), but the talent pool is decreasing. Without students, there is no choir program. There is no theatre program. And, with the combination of the symptoms listed above, there is reason to believe that, despite Mrs. Roding’s vigor and passion for her work, the almighty choir and performing arts program might just be on the road to decline.

For those who understand what the BHS instrumental program was like in its glory days, this might sound somewhat familiar.

I’ll admit that I don’t know the history of the BHS instrumental program to a T. But I do know that it was once flooded with talented student musicians. It was well known not only throughout Branford, but throughout the state. It was capable of amazing things, and it produced amazing things. And even then, Ted Samodel was standing at the conductor’s podium. The same Ted Samodel that so many parents now vilify for being the stuff of their students’ musical nightmares.

Then the students began to disappear. Interest was declining. The talent pool was shrinking. Band rehearsals became a little less crowded with every year. And Mr. Samodel was powerless to it all. As a director, one can only produce work that is as good as its students. And when the caliber of the work declined, the Board of Education became less impressed. Cue the budget-slasher.

It makes sense—the Board of Ed finances programs that are promising, and cuts programs that are not. In their eyes, the instrumental program held less and less promise. Therefore, they received less and less financing. Rather than implement measures to support a declining program despite the circumstances, they chose to take the easy way out. The end result? You’ve got a situation that has resulted in a bunch of angry parents, students, and miscellaneous netizens throwing hissy fits on a comment board of a minor local online newspaper.

The solution should have been simple—implement instrumental programs early. In elementary schools. And by “elementary schools,” I don’t mean “4th graders playing ‘Hot Cross Buns’ in the Mary T. Murphy boiler room,” like I did when I was still a part of the instrumental program. Instrumental music instruction is unique in that the only key to its success is through early childhood exposure. Of course, it is an expensive (not to mention risky )endeavor to place violins in the hands of every hyperactive 1st grader and a teacher to show them how to play a G major scale. But what is more costly: the price of 24 violins for classroom use, or the price of trying to repair a broken high school instrumental program—where, in fact, the real problem lies in the fact that this program had no elementary school-based foundation to stand on?

Music needs to be established at a young age. Otherwise, the song and dance you see on the BHS stage is impossible. The town of Branford—not even just the popularly blamed Board of Education—has taken all of this for granted. We took our instrumental program for granted. It died. We have taken our choir and theatre programs for granted. Without the proper support, it will die as well.

It is easy to point fingers when emotions are involved in an issue like this. I will admit that Mr. Samodel does not possess a personality that is appealing to teenagers and the parents that love them. That is still no reason to make him into a scapegoat. He reprimands his students for playing incorrectly in a group where mistakes can’t be afforded? He asks for an apology for not attending the few performances that the band or orchestra is allowed to give? That’s not unreasonable. That’s called dealing with the situation. Mr. Samodel is trying his hardest to keep his program afloat. And the only way to do so is not necessarily catering to the students’ wishes. It’s making them understand that they are hanging onto a dying program, and encouraging them to hang on with everything they’ve got. Through his so-called “absolutely inappropriate” actions, Mr. Samodel has only been trying to make students realize that they are the only things that is keeping this program alive, and that it is not enough to just be alive—one must be alive and STRONG. The fact that students have ignored his sentiment and instead made him an easy ‘bashing’ target because of his unlikeable personality disgusts me. The parents who blame him for the decline of their students’ success in the instrumental program are not any better. I think that the comments posted on this board are quite reflective of the latter. And as a relatively powerless 16 year old kid, I am disappointed in the adults who are supposed to be my role models.

It is not enough to form a committee and draft complaints. It is not enough to tell a teacher that he is not doing enough to benefit your kids. If you want to effect change, don’t tell others to do it for you. It is entirely inappropriate to tell a student that he should be “supporting his instrumental program” through an organization with beliefs that are not necessarily congruent with his own. Like Eric said, our first commitment as students is to our academics. It’s just somewhat disheartening that we must leave this task to adults who choose to point fingers instead of effecting true change.

What is this true change? I think Eric said it all. Take an active approach, not a passive one in the guise of an active mood. Talk to Mr. Panagoulias. Gain active supporters—ones with actual power to effect change, not just ones who will sympathize with your complaints. And most importantly, investigate the situation in the elementary and intermediate schools. That is the root of the problem. Not a man who has turned into a scapegoat in an impossible situation.

This article has garnered much interest amongst BHS students, so I don’t doubt that you will be seeing quite a bit of student response to this issue very soon. Comments from Gio, Eric, myself, and others—these are the student opinions—free from peer pressure—that people like User “Something to think about” might be looking for. But we are still comparatively powerless. We can only pray that you, the adult, will put down the pitchforks and indignance for a moment and consider our thoughts.

Also, in regards to Mrs. Polverari and Something to think about’s comments on Mr. Samodel’s “prayer group”: H.O.P.E is a school organization. It is actively exercising its first amendment right that disallows Congress to prohibit the free exercise of religion. H.O.P.E. is like any other club and therefore has every right to meet on school grounds. The concept of a school-based, student Christian organization is not new. Branford High School might not all be that Christianity-friendly—I’m an active Christian at Branford High School; I think I can speak from experience—but popular dissent does not supercede constitutional right.

posted by: Margaret Chase on February 3, 2010  11:20pm

First of, Jenna you did an amazing job with this article, you took something very controversial and wrote in a way that would bring up much discussion as seen by previous comments.
As one of the few remaining orchestra students (6 in total) I feel it’s necessary to explain our side of the situation. I understand that the students in band class can see our side of the story when it comes down to the simple fact that Mr. Samodel just can not understand how to teach us because he does not understand our instruments. Not to say that he hasn’t been trying, but it takes YEARS to understand just basics of a violin, viola, cello or bass. This lack of understanding, however, leads to negative thoughts and feelings because productivity simply goes nowhere. I’ve personally known Mr. Samodel for 7 years, going on 8 and I have nothing against him personally, for I feel he is a great man, but the lack of respect in the classroom has an immense effect on this program which is already juggling so many other problems such as lack of attention from the board of education and lack of funding.However this lack of respect can be seen farther than just in the orchestra program and is one of the bigger issues for the students since they face it every day. I am a sibling to a past band member (my sister Elizabeth Chase) and saw first hand the effects of the negative comments (in response to sarah). At least once a week she would come home miserable because she felt nothing she could do was good enough in band class.Fortunately, she has grown to become an amazing musician in college because of outside influences reminding her of the bond between a musician and their instrument. However, this biased view can be seen as nothing factual. Now in my opinion some of the facts about the negative environment are harsh and numerous so I will stick to the very few that struck me the most. During my freshman year there were several new freshman trumpet players in the band, however one felt her only option was to quit immediately after being called, and I quote, “The vomit in the soup of the band.” This to me is completely out of line for a teacher to tell a student, not only do I see this as an immature strike at the confidence in a teen but it is simply unprofessional. There are dozens more of these negative and odd analogies listed in a book that Mr. Samodel keeps on his music stand which was made by graduated students. These comments may seem humorous in the way they are and were delivered but telling a group their music sounded like “A chihuahua thrown in a dishwasher” is most likely going to have a negative effect on a students outlook on music.These comments are not to personally attack Mr. Samodel because he does have a vast knowledge of music theory and the ability to teach a band class, however his immense potential and the respect for him can be thrown away in seconds by protective parents, upset students, and even faculty based on this issue and it’s important to address it so that things can change. I understand people are going to feel upset at these comments being addressed because not everyone will take to them negatively, I am only speaking facts about this matter though, the quotes I have used are direct quotes and the book does exist (but it may suddenly disappear in light of my commenting on it) To all music students who find my comment as a whole offensive or wrong, feel free to point out any specific problems you see with it, the whole point I’m trying to make is that there is the possibility of change if change is sought out, and the negative comments may not affect you, but there are many students who have dropped out of this program after their freshman year because it has affected THEM.

posted by: jaqu1966 on February 3, 2010  11:32pm

“Something to think about”.... you are correct What is up with that?  I believe that is a question for the administration to answer.  I just stated a fact.  On the Branford Band Website that the teacher created and maintains he had on the first page an announcement to come join his prayer group at 7:20am in the band room.  When it was reported to the school administration, it was taken off of the website immediatly.  Not sure if they are allowing the prayer group to continue or not that is again, another question for the administration.

posted by: anonymous on February 3, 2010  11:48pm

Jenna, nice article very well written

As a former member of the Branford High School orchestra program I can tell you that there are several problems with the Band and orchestra that simply need to be addressed
Part of the problem is that there is just simply not enough room in the day and like Gio said some students are simply enticed by the the other electives offered. Furthermore, orchestra is a fixed period during the day (currently it is offered 6th period) which is the same period as Music Makers. I personally know several people who unfortunately have had to leave orchestra because of this conflict.
  Another issue (specifically with orchestra) is the lack of a professional strings player. Playing under somebody who cannot explain how to improve bowing or other techniques is incredibly difficult. Without a doubt Mr. Samodel is a great musician but he is not a Strings player and therefore cannot truly offer the advice many young players need.
  Lastly,  I would like to address the teacher
I, like many other students who were once enrolled in the program, had a less than pleasant experience with him. Somebody before me commented saying he was simply “outspoken” and others have agreed. However, he simply goes too far. I have a specific memory of him calling a newer player in the orchestra “useless”. However, this student had been making fantastic progress. Even though, she had only been playing for 2 years she kept up with the rest of the group (most had been playing for 5 or 6 years sometimes more) However he continued to undermine her and point out her mistakes and ridicule her in front of the entire class. At the end of one class this man brought her to tears. As a result, she dropped out of the program and has quit her instrument. I also quit the orchestra program after my first year because I simply did not enjoy playing anymore. He undermined all of us in his class and i simply did not feel comfortable. I have since enrolled in a private symphony and it has truly allowed me to enjoy my instrument again. If this man’s behavior is not “pushing the limit” I don’t know what is. I completely understand that he may feel frustrated and that his job is always on the line but it is simply unacceptable to treat your students in that manner.

However, I do agree the Band and orchestra should not be cut. Even though many people have had problems with this man and there are also many problems dealing with budget cuts etc. should the children who wish to continue playing their instruments suffer? I think not. We ought to ask their opinion on what should happen and even if it is not offered as a class it can always be offered as a club for those who still wish to play.

posted by: Thomas Quagliano on February 4, 2010  12:00am

I have been wanting to respond to extremely well written article for quite sometime now. I now feel the right time to do so as opposed to the ranting and raving I have been doing throughout the past couple of school days. To start off, I will use the two words that have been used on many occasions since the article was published, Bravo Jenna. And frankly she deserves nothing but the upmost respect for addressing the conflict that has been fluctuating throughout the Branford School Systems for many years now. She wrote this article insightfully and, to me is a prime example of what good journalism is.

Now, as an Orchestra student at Branford High School myself, I feel very strongly about this topic. Music is a huge part of my life and will always continue to be. It was not until I first came up to the high school where my views and feelings on music started to change. I knew when I first came up to the high school that I am entering a place where I will face and overcome many challenges, such as AP, Honors Classes, an absurd workload at times, etc. But frankly, I was not worried. Tonight, having a very insightful conversation with my good friend Margaret on the phone, we chuckled at the fact that we were ALWAYS in the orchestra room in middle school. We would have our stressful days and when we just wanted to escape it all we would go to the orchestra room and do what we love and what brings us joy, we would play our instruments and play music. We would use orchestra class as an escape and just focus on the music.  Now, coming up to the high school, I felt that it would be no different. But alas, what I had gotten was an environment of not only negativity, but also immense uncomfortableness. And as the years go by, I feel as if my relationship with my instrument has depleted. That for me, is a red flag. When MUSIC, out of all things starts becoming unenjoyable, there is a problem.

Mr. Samodel is a man with an extremely vast amount of knowledge of music theory and music in general. But he is just unfit to teach a stringed instrument. It is like me trying to teach a brass ensemble. I can surely know what I want them to sound like, but I must be able to teach them how to get there. It is absurd that he is even teaching strings to begin with when he his main studies is brass instruments. Also, the constant negativity he splurges throughout the year is less than pleasing. He has a book of what seems to be a “funny” quote book of memorabilia over the years. But upon looking at it now, it is disgusting. The book is filled with negative comments that could do nothing other than hurt someone’s feelings. To comment on Margaret’s response, I agree, his metaphorical insults are just uncalled for. To comment on “Sarah’s” post, my self confidence also has gone places where it has never been before and I can very safely blame the environment of the Instrumental Program. 

People need to understand that we are not trying to “bash” Mr. Samodel. But this article rather, covered facts, facts that are right in front of our faces. The fact that this was not brought up sooner is again, absurd. I confidently put my name in this article to show my feelings towards the program and that is it. I feel very passionate about this program. A program that used to be my escape from stress, an environment in which I called my second home. I used to play and create art…MUSIC with my friends every day. Now that is not the case and I would confidently say that it is or a vast majority of it is indicative of the teacher and the environment.

Jenna’s article has finally brought this issue into the hallways of our school system and has created much abuzz in the teacher’s lounge I am sure. And I applaud and thank her for everything she has done. I have said it before and I will certainly say it again.
Bravo Jenna.

posted by: Keah Lonergan on February 4, 2010  4:59pm

As a senior member of the BHS Choir, I am not a member of the instrumental music program. However, many of my peers are involved with this situation.

Samodel certainly has high expectations for his students; that should be applauded, not attacked. He also treats them like adults and demands they take responsibility.  The fact of the matter is, though, that teenagers do not want to hear criticism for an hour in the middle of their already stressful school day—even if it is constructive, and even if it is merited.

Last year I ate lunch with a strings player who literally dreaded going to orchestra every day. They have since quit, and I’m sad to see their interest in music fizzle. But again—-we are teenagers. There is a variety of (largely irrational) reasons an adolescent might stop doing something beyond the quality learning environment.

I sympathize with the frustration on both sides of the issue.

Most importantly, I’m proud of Jenna for writing this article. I am also glad to see my peers’ thoughts on here—I daresay the comments written by my classmates is in some cases far more articulate and level-headed than the adults’.

posted by: Nick Roberts on February 4, 2010  5:14pm

To Everyone Whom Cares:

First off, thank you Jenna for expressing your first amendment rights and shedding some light onto this issue. Your article was well written but is lacking in the field of balance. There are several people whom support Mr. Samodel that you could have talked to…

It was me who started the idea of a concert, it was my idea to get students involved. However, it was Mrs. Polverari who got the parents together for the alleged “booster club meeting”. I attended these meetings. The first was basically everyone bashing on mr. samodel and i was the only one to stand up for him (one student besides). This whole concept that we need help for the music program has been distorted into a pathetic game of point the finger. I am simply disgusted by some of the things that have been put here. I am shocked at how my original idea has been twisted into a perverted way of blaming samodel. i feel used. i feel violated. And if a fellow student had done so, then i could forgive them. but for a woman to just plain manipulate teenagers into helping her correct people. That’s just sick. It’s wrong. I don’t know why the cookie crumbled the way it did, but it did. Therefore, i propose that all people whom have made their opinions known, to stand down. to hold back until the appropriate moment. until there is a time when your voices can be heard by those who need to hear them.

The music program suffers, while we play point the finger. and if bickering and arguing about who’s fault it is, is all that people can do in this situation, well then, i’ve lost my faith in people. I say stop. Stop before real damage is done. there is a serious crisis on our hands and the only way that we can pull through with a strong music program is together. so intead of pointing the finger, look at yourself, look what you can do. And i promise every single one of you, that i will do the same.

Thank you.

posted by: Erica on February 4, 2010  6:15pm

I received word of this article from a current student, and I felt that it was absolutely necessary to comment.

As a formerly involved member of the BHS instrumental music program, I have witnessed the downsizing first-hand. I agree that it is a huge problem. As Gio mentioned, there is value in learning with small groups. I am currently at a college at which I am the only player of my instrument. I was never known as the most assertive player, nor have I always been on good terms with him (as most of you know), but being in a program with Mr. Samodel boosted my playing skill, my responsibility, my ability to “pull my own weight,” and the leadership skills of being at the head of my section. Now, more than ever, those skills are vital in my playing career.

I understand that the state of the band is not an ideal picture of a “band.” I think that the students, including Jenna, are taking the right attitude about defending the program, but I think it is past the time for the Board to step in. There is only so much the students and parents can do to fix this situation, especially if it gets everyone so upset.

It might be worth trying to work with the BoE and BoF to rebuild the program from the bottom up. Start from the beginning and recreate the ideal conditions that the music program needs to grow rather than decline (this includes the orchestra). I’ll be sure to send a letter if it is necessary.

posted by: BHS Student on February 4, 2010  9:59pm

to whom cares:
  In my opinion i am glad this controversies has come up. i see where both Band and Orchestra come into par, and i see how they don’t see eye to eye. but in all the truth, some people say this article bashes him and others disagree, but in any case Mr. Samodel is not the main reason for the Music program to Deplete. The mission of BHS is improved learning? yes that is all well in good but like any good teacher Mr.Samodel pushes his students to the potential he knows his students have and that is the true mission that our school wants to Foster.  We may not have a high budget for the music program but every school has a different curriculum they sponsor more. For some it is lacrosse or football or even soccer and their bands. However we don’t have the money going to our music program for band and orchestra, but that doesn’t matter to Mr. Samodel he wants to make use of what he has and he trains the students he has to be the best as if we did have a high budget for music. So what is they dont have Fancy uniforms! it isn’t about appearance in a concert it is how well you present yourself and how well you represent what you are doing. Mr. Samodel is in BHS for one reason. To teach music on a higher level. In WIS students should have learned the basics and whether they did or did not does not matter at all it is up to the individual to practice on their own time and show up prepared and ready to learn from what this knowledgable person has to offer them. Mr.Samodel may be harsh in his ways of criticism but truth someone has to be, and he is human everyone makes mistakes in how they handle certain situations but you can’t hold them accountable for everything they mess up on, and so what mr. samodel is harsh? you can not always expect to get an easy teacher or a nice teacher. Mr. Samodel doesdoesn’tt any slackers in his class and he makes sure to keep them focused and on task and as a student i say he is doing his job and he is doing it well.

posted by: Donna D on February 4, 2010  10:07pm

Firstly, Great job Jenna on this article.  This seems to be something that has caused some controversy but a little bit of controversy is a good thing to get things writing about a woman that has put her neck out on the line for you kids.  I have known this woman for 25 years.  I know her professionally and personally.  Professionally she has dedicated her life as a social worker specializing in children in Foster Care and helping them suceed in life.  She is a great mother and I have been there listening to her on the phone for countless hours trying to get tshirts donated for your concert and tickets generated.  I have NEVER heard her speak badly about anyone in 25 years and she ONLY states what are factual and what she believes to be right.  Im not sure whatyou were taught but I do know that respect was not one of them.  Your words regarding her were not only hurtful but have NOTHING to do with this article or ANY comment.  I would hope anyone would see that this is just misguided kid with some very mislead advise.  I think everyone in Branford should commend ANYONE who tries to fight for what is right and what they believe in because I can assure you it is not easy to go up against a superintendant who simply does not care about the program and a Board of Education that won’t even let the parents speak let alone get involved.  The political system is nothing but an uphill battle.  Its a very sad day when parents are put down because they care.  I say stay on task people, keep in mind this is about the Branford Instrumental Program Decline…I think many people are trying to get the focus away from that.  That is what this original article is about.

posted by: Steve Roberts on February 5, 2010  12:38am

The good news here is that the plight of the music program in Branford is becoming more widely known and there appears to be a lot of people who are very passionate about this subject…the situation cannot be fixed without awareness along with public will and energy to actually do something about it. The bad news seems to be that this energy is misdirected. This is sometimes harmless…attacks that are not properly directed are simply ineffective…but in this case, I think some of the animosity and range of disparate opinions threatens to poison the overall effort.

I’m a high school teacher myself and a parent of a BHS student with a strong interest in music and potentially, a career in music. He won’t benefit from any changes that are made, but he has younger brothers who might and both he and I believe that it is the right thing to so that other similarly minded students who come along later will have opportunities that he missed.

To anyone who really wants to help improve things, I recommend you ask yourself a few things…
What is the goal here…not what is the problem, what is the goal?
Why should this be addressed?
What are the points that anyone involved could agree on?
Who are the players who could help make this better and what are their motivations?
Do you want to be right or do you want things to get better?

If your goal was simply to rant in a public forum…well done. Many of you have accomplished that. Beyond that, I would say the goal of most people who read and respond to this article is to reverse the decline of the music program and begin to create something that provides a significant, positive opportunity at BHS for students with interest and/or ability in instrumental music.

Why address the issue? It is NOT because you’re ticked off because you or your son/daughter has had a negative experience or because you’re mad at some point made in the article or in response to the article or because you do or don’t like a certain teacher. These are personal issues, not programmatic issues and should be addressed as such. There are really only 2 reasons to choose to address certain issues within k-12 education and not others. The first is strictly education focused…overall, is it likely to provide a net educational benefit to the students of this district? All programs could be considered as having some level of detrimental effect (e.g. this is money that could otherwise be spent on A B or C, therefore it hurts the A B or C program) but overall, do the benefits outweigh the detriments? Secondly, most town budgets include education as the single biggest cost area and not every resident has children in our school system, so the other reason to address the issue is if it results in a net benefit to the town of Branford and its residents. Neither question is easy to pin down to provide an undisputed answer. There will be significant disagreement in ALL decisions involving education and town dollars.

The points that all could agree on must by definition be facts, not opinion. These include…the instrumental music program is in serious decline…history shows that this is not due to a lack of interest or ability in Branford since past programs were much larger and more accomplished…a look around shows that it is not a general decline in music interest/ability since other programs are not in such rapid decline, despite facing similar economic challenges, so this is a Branford issue, but not a ‘Branford doesn’t care about music’ issue…there are a number of factors which contribute to this decline, including budget cuts, lack of support at a district administration/BOE level, lack of administrative leadership at BHS (present leadership excluded until they have a chance to prove themselves), a fractured approach (considering elementary, WIS and BHS somewhat independently instead of taking a coordinated approach) and student/teacher issues. The degree to which each contributes to the problem is debatable, but it seems clear that each either has in the past, and/or currently does, contribute.

Who could have an impact and help make this better? Town officials, especially the BOE/BOF, administration personnel both at school level and district level, the teachers involved, and residents…students, parents and residents not directly involved. What motivates these people? (a caveat…individuals may be motivated by more than these, including just trying to “do what’s right”. Identifying broad motivations however helps one to devise a targeted strategy) At a town level, primarily money and re-election…there are numerous studies documenting the financial benefits of a strong music program. “Saving” money by additional cuts is counterproductive and results in a net cost increase, not decrease. BHS leadership seems to have taken some initiative now which is great. HS admins are generally most concerned with minimizing risk and creating an environment (physical and otherwise) within which education can occur as smoothly as possible for as broad a range of students as possible. This means, among other things, ensuring sound educational approach by faculty, minimizing conflict, addressing the needs of all learners, etc. What about teachers, like Ted Samodel? Forget about whether you like him or not, like his approach or not, etc. Why does he do what he does? Because he hates kids or music? I don’t think so. Again, if something actionable occurred with you or your child, address that through the appropriate channels…mixing it with trying to help the music program will not likely actually help the music program. Finally, but certainly not least importantly student, parents, residents…how can they help and why? Well for one thing, they can help by raising awareness, so Kudos to Ms Grande…lets applaud her efforts rather than criticize your perception of her balance, clarity, etc. Efforts by parents like Mrs. Pulverari to organize parents and students in support of the music program could also be effective, provided the focus is on the solution, not the problem…students demonstrating that there IS a large group that is both talented and loves music by putting aside their differences and working together to create something positive. There are also other residents in town and programs like Branford Education Foundation who might be able to help and whose motivations are simply to support efforts that are likely to work and result in an educational benefit to the kids here.

The bottom line here is that if you really want things to get better, find some common ground, raise public awareness, take a strategic approach to each person/organization that could help and begin to take proactive, positive steps that will demonstrate to others that there is a solution, there is hope that, should they try to help change things, it will not be wasted effort. Create the vision for them of a dynamic, creative, talented, motivated group of students, teachers, administrators and others and what that will mean for the students themselves and their future, for the high school, the district and the town. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

posted by: Steve Roberts on February 5, 2010  9:55am

As an aside, I’d like to publicly encourage some people (who shall remain nameless but may share a last name with me) to consider the possibility of writing an amended statement that better reflects your beliefs on the subject and doesn’t include the {pick your adjective here…rash, caustic, unproductive, unfounded} criticism of people you may strongly disagree with but who are really trying to help YOU among others. That’s all I have to say about that.

posted by: Jodi Esposito on February 5, 2010  10:38am

I have been following this story from the onset as a colleague of mine is very involved.  I no longer have children in the Branford High School they have graduated.  I agree with Mr. Roberts that the focus here seems to be going astray.  However, How can you address the decline of the program if you don’t address the teachers who teach it whether it is at the High School level or the intermediate level?  I dont think its possible.  I do konw that when my daughter was in the band under this teacher there were many times she came home crying, many things said to her to hurt her self-esteem and she did quite playing in her Junior year.  I have no idea if that is why the program declined but that DOES have to be addressed.  It appears that the subject of the teacher is “off limits” for some reason.  But as a taxpayer, I believe we are owed answers if asked regarding any teacher.  I also commend Mrs. Polverari in her efforts.  It appears that she was the one who had the intellegence enough to stand up and ask questions when she saw something was going wrong.  I didnt do that and I should have.  I really don’t understand the comments of Nick Roberts as to his apparent disrespect of a parent whom I am told opened her home to these kids and their meetings.  Im also told by my colleage who attended one of the meetings at Mrs. Polverari’s house that Nick Roberts was among the kids bashing the teacher and it was Mrs. Polverari who ended the bashing at the house and told everyone that the forum was to create a positive environment.  So why so angry?  I think much is going on with the program and has been since the hiring of this teacher.  I have to tell you that you should be thanking a person who is not afraid to go up against the Board of Education and kathryn Halligan because that is not an easy job.  I don’t see any other parents fighting for their children’s love of music and for the town.  Our Music program is a reflection of this town.  Did anyone read Julie Schwartz’s comments regarding the Music Program in West Hartford?  Well the same comments can be made about the Music Program in Guilford, Madison, East Haven and all these towns and their citizens are proud of their kids and the program they have.  We are not. THAT my friends is the problem here.  I also applaud Jenna for a well written article that informed me and woke me up a little to a point that I wished I had done more when my daughter was playing or done anything.  Well I still live in Branford and would like to do it now, as my daughter said, its never too late.  Instead of complaining on this post do something about it.  So I called Mrs. Polverari this morning to ask when this will be on the agenda so I can attend.  She told me that the Board of Education will NOT put this on the teaching and learning committee agenda.  She has asked several times in writing and has every responce in writing.  The last responce from Frank Carrano in writing telling her the ONLY way they will put it on the Agenda is if she “plays by their rules” and only speaks about certain things!  I was amazed at that.  THAT is where this forum needs to be moved.  I can bet that 3/4 of these kids and people who have posted here wouldn’t show up and if they did they wouldn’t put themselves out there in full public eye to stand up and state their opinion.  BUT Mrs. Polverari is getting disrespected and bashed by a kid because she did.  Possibly he was talked to by the teacher?  I think we should all be writing Frank Carrano and pushing that his entire article be brought up in front of the teaching and learning committe to properly address it but not address it in a meaningless blog that only a few people will read.  His email is Fcarrano@branford.k12.ct.us.  Do you all really want to better the program?  You need to start there.  Stop the complaining and pointing fingers and DO something about it.  Who is the Board of Education to say NO you cant be on the agenda.  Is the Music Program just not that important to them?  Is it not worth discussing openly.  I apologize to you, Mrs. Polverari for Nick Roberts horribly written comment to you.  That is only indicative of his parents and I commend you and say Bravo to you for being an advocate and not being afraid to speak your mind.  You have been an inspiration to me who should have spoken her mind years ago.  Thank you.

posted by: Steve Roberts on February 5, 2010  2:10pm


I welcome your enthusiasm and anticipated contribution towards making things better. Thank you for that. In terms of dealing with Frank Carrano and BOE, you may wish to review the town laws and agreements regarding what can or cannot (by written agreement) be discussed in BOE meetings, the process by which topics can be added to the agenda and consider carefully what will motivate the BOE to actually take action.

Sometimes its enough to raise hell and make demands based on what should be…and then what ‘should be’ becomes reality, but that may not be effective in this case. Many times it works if there are enough people involved that demand change, but I don’t think the critical mass exists yet to make that happen, so it may just serve to derail efforts rather than help.

If you take the approach provided by the town (I guess that’s ‘playing by the rules’) and convince them with facts that support their charter, you are much more likely to meet with success. If not, you can then document that the BOE response was to ignore the issue and then you have earned the right to NOT play by the rules and make demands that something be done AND you are now armed with leverage to ensure it is addressed.

On a personal note…your comment “That is only indicative of his parents…”
I am Nick’s father and his comments are not at all reflective of me or my position and really, not even of Nick’s, although I’ll leave him to speak for himself. I’ve already contacted Jackie to make sure she understands that and have encouraged Nick to do the same. Meantime, please refrain from salacious implications and reporting “what you heard” happened…I was also at Jackie’s house that evening and your comments regarding that meeting are inaccurate.

Your indignation is not unwarranted, just as Nick’s was not unwarranted (you may contact me directly for an explanation if you wish. Further discussion in this public forum will not be helpful). However, I expressed to Nick that lashing out with unfounded criticism directed toward people who you may disagree with, but who are trying to help the situation is unlikely to achieve results. To a lesser extent, I offer the same opinion to you and add that if you channel that energy toward taking proactive positive steps, as Mrs. Polverari has indeed advocated, it is much more likely to achieve results.

posted by: Jodi Esposito on February 5, 2010  4:20pm

Mr. Roberts, I thank you for reminding me that I too had gotten a bit “off” track and possibly not so helpful in part of my comment.  I also agree that in any passionate subject you can get heated and get off track so to give some neighborly advise, if your son felt bad then maybe he should post a retraction or apology just as he had no problem posting a nasty comment that had nothing to do with the article written.  Not knowing Mrs. Polverari personally, I would imagine how any mother who has been helping these kids would feel regarding your son’s bashing.  You are right though as she also said this morning, none of that is relevant to the problem at hand.  I am not a political activist and I dont know how the system or Board of Education works.  But you said that if there are enough people involved it can effect change, but how is that possible when Im told there are only 6 or 7 kids in the Orchestra and only a handful more in the band?  Those certainly arent the numbers that will change much and if there are parents who just don’t want to make waves as I did when my daughter was under the “wrath” of this teacher and declining program what to do?  I have to be honest it was easier when my daughter just quit.  I didnt have to hear the complaints from her any longer or the crying before a concert.  But again, I regret not doing anything then.  But it seems as if anything anyone does appears to be just angry parents trying to “take over” a program.  I don’t know the players and would love to help and get involved, however when I did speak to Mrs. Polverari she would not really comment negatively on anything and didnt have the answers.  My colleague who does which to remain anonymous right now does know the players and claims it is not worth trying as I will quote him, “The Board of Education has too much power or so they think for the community to be able to change anything”.  Im curious what does Cheryl Ann Roding think about all this.  Im sure she has a VERY strong opinion as she does have a very successful program in the High School.  Has anyone asked what she does to have that success?  Maybe everyone should start with the Positive program that Choir has and start just mimicking what they do and it might spill into the Instrumental side of things.

posted by: Nick Roberts on February 5, 2010  4:31pm

First off, to mrs. polverari, I apologize for the tone of my comment. It was out of line. I feel as though there has been a miscommunication between us. When I read your comments, i felt as though you were putting things that were meant to be positive in a negative place. I felt and feel as though putting things about the concert wasn’t your place. Please contact me so that I can personally apologize. I feel as though this blog isn’t productive.
To Donna D, i feel as though your comments are way out of line. It is fair of you to tell me about mrs. Polverari because you know her. however, since i do not know you, and you do not know me, anything that you put about me cannot be accurate or fair. To suggest that i would write based on the influence of others is just downright insulting. It’s over the line and unless you have something productive to add about the music program, then i suggest you stop commenting.
To everyone else, this program is on the decline not for any one reason. Mrs. Polverari and I are usually on the same side on the issues. We’ve worked together in the past and i hope to do so in the future. If we look at this as a k12 program then there is only one person to blame, Superintendant Halligan. And the Board of Ed. as well as the board of finance. I encourage everyone to contact them and to ask them why they haven’t helped the program. There are certain people whose efforts i applaud, but i think would prefer to remain unnamed. So it’s time to do the right thing and help the program.

thank you

posted by: Samantha Traylor on February 5, 2010  8:10pm

As someone who has heard of this article for the past couple days from my classmates, I felt the need to read it and have come to the conclusion that Jenna has written an excellent article. Since I am not involved in any music program at BHS I really do not know much on the subject, but I will say that the WIS orchestra consists of a handful of 6th graders and my little sister is one of only two 5th graders in the program;she has told me that the group of 5th graders began with 6 students. I do not know Mr.Samodel or how he runs his classes, and frankly since I am uninvolved I do not particularly care but from what I have read in the comments section of this article (which is not everything because I do not have all the time in the world) the instrumental music program’s decline could be a combination of any number of reasons. Could it be that there is just less and less interest in the music program as a whole? From what Patty has said about how few boys signed up for freshman choir, even with the choral music program being so successful, I think that natural decline in interest is something to be considered. Maybe students are becoming more interested in the visual arts, especially since there is now an Art Club at WIS. And is this decline necessarily a bad thing? Could it be that the students involved in the declining program are now given more one on one attention than would be possible in a larger group? Maybe. I know my mother was at first upset that my sister was to be part of such a tiny group, but was then consoled by the thought that now maybe she will get more individual attention, and I have seen her violin skills improve oddly quickly. I’m not sure this would be possible in a larger group.

Please note I am not taking sides. I am just using what little I know of this and forming what I think is a rational, however detached, way of looking at the situation.

Good job Jenna!

posted by: Class of 2009 Band Student on February 6, 2010  12:11am

Excellent article Jenna! I was in the band program, I graduated ‘09, and everything in this is 100% true. Something needs to be done! And this was extremely well written. Before seeing that you wrote it, I had assumed it was a professional writer. Keep up the good work!

posted by: susan barnes on February 6, 2010  11:25am

I do not have, nor have I ever had, children in the Branford School system, but I do pay taxes in Branford. Public education is for the many.  Programs and costs to provide for the few should be looked at most carefully.  I do not think that taxpayers should have to foot the bill for gowns or tails for a few kids - nor should they have to provide an entire non- essential program for SEVEN kids.  I use that one example to speak to what parents think their kids are entitled on the backs of the taxpayers. Sometime, someone has to say ENOUGH!

Perhaps in the spirit of regionalization these types of programs should be shared with other towns and maybe not provided through the school system at all.  Perhaps the parents should be willing to pony up the funds for specialized training. I don’t think it is the responsibility of the public to pay for these luxuries for SEVEN kids!

  I know NONE of the players in this drama, but I would like to know if these kids give anything back to Branford.  Tom, are you the young man that I was supposed to hear from regarding doing a 30 minute charitable gig last year? If so, I was under the impression you were to call me to get the details.  From spring until December I waited for the phone call that never came.  Here was a golden opportunity to showcase your program, make the public aware. But NOTHING.  If it is not you to whom I should be speaking, then this statement is not for you. Ignore it. If you are the right kid, shame on you and take my statement to heart. Did you consider the position in which you put your teacher? Did you consider what your failure to follow through did to your credibility, at the very least, in my eyes? Did you consider that when a high school group calls my home for a donation for whatever, we disinclined to make it as we have routinely done in the past?

It seems to me that if an apology is due anyone, Ms. Esposito, it should be from you to Mr. and Mrs. Roberts. Your attack on them is appalling.  Mr. Roberts’ response to you is that of a gentleman, as is that of his son, which speaks volumes. 

Finally, WHEN are the voters of Branford going to get it.  THE BOE has too much power, little accountability and spends too much money. Mr. Prins tells a reporter at a “public” meeting held in a “private” home (that of Mr. Carrano) that certain discussions are “off the record”. IT IS A PUBLIC MEETING. WHAT COULD BE OFF THE RECORD AND WHY IS IT BEING HELD IN A PRIVATE HOME? DID HE EVER HEAR OF FOI? Should it happen again, I suggest 500 people show up a Mr. Carrano’s home.  Also, why is there not a public outcry to have the Board of Ethics investigate these two and their actions?
It seems it is SOP that important items never make it to their agenda and that the public is allowed only limited input, while these people get nearly $50 million taxpayer dollars.  Be sure to read Ms. Troidle’s informative articles appearing on the Eagle.

The BOE and the BOF share an equal degree of arrogance in their refusal to allow the public who provides the funding to speak to matters at meetings.  Remember your complaints and concerns at election time.  Too many, particularly, Prins and Carrano, have been around too long and behave as if the BOE is their personal fiefdom and the public little more that a collective nuisance. WHY is eight years good enough for the President of the United States, but there are no term limitations for these elected officials - or for the members of all our Boards and Commissions, who also after 15 or 20 years on the job think they are no longer accountable to the people they are supposed to be serving. VOTE THEM OUT.  DEMAND FRESH APPOINTEES BY THE BOS.

Is it not interesting that when budget season rolls around and the numbers come out it is NEVER the $100K + central office paper pusher that is going to be shown the door.  OH no, it is the custodian, teachers, and this year BASKETBALL!  Have you ever asked yourself why people making in excss of $100 K per year need a union?  Does anyone remember the main reasons unions were formed?  The taxpayer is being raped by these people.  Would it not be better to pay the incredible math or science teacher another 10 or 20 K per year so the kids are actually getting a better education?

The First Selectman has told all department heads to hold their budget increases to 2%. How many of you out there got NO raises, took cuts, lost jobs in last two years? How many old folks living on Social Security are getting no COLA? Yet the public can look forward to paying increases to all our municipal employees. WHY is there not an across the board freeze.  Read the article on www.BranfordSeven.com to zero in on just how last year’s teachers contract plays out.
When does it all stop?  The Federal government has spiraled into the deepest debt in history, the State has an enormous deficit and here we go into the madness the Branford Budget Bender. 
And, as I understand it, the Supreme Court Decision on Tabor should be posted Monday at 11:30AM. Now there’s a chunk of change to consider….........

posted by: Kelsey Zielinski on February 6, 2010  1:54pm

I read this article, and have since reread it, along with all of the comments, several times. I’m very happy that something like this has finally been published because, yes, the BHS Band obviously has some issues that no one seems to be paying any attention to. So, great job Jenna, and thank you for finally bringing this problem to the public eye.
I graduated from BHS last year. I was an active member of the Concert Band for all 4 of my years at that school, played flute and piccolo, and I was the flute section leader (or co-section leader) for over 2 years, so I worked very closely with Mr. Samodel and the rest of the band on a daily basis. I’m just going to describe my time and involvement with the Branford Instrumental Music Program and let others use it however they’d like. I am going to try to avoid putting the blame on any one incident and simply share my experiences.
I first picked up a flute in 5th grade at WIS, which is the earliest opportunity for instrumental instruction (except for recorders and strings in 4th grade) within the Branford school system. I attended weekly lessons and the concerts progressed from separate 5th and 6th grade performances, to joint 7th and 8th grade band and jazz band pieces. There were quite a few students involved in the bands, however, only the basic instruments were being played. One thing I distinctly remember was receiving candy for bringing my instrument home on the weekends, presumably to practice. I never heard of many people that actually did practice on the weekends (I myself just made sure I could do what was expected for my lesson and left the concert pieces for our group rehearsals). I joined the band with several other friends, thinking we could do something fun together. However, as 6th and 7th grade came and went, less and less people were coming back to rehearsals, so obviously the issue with students quitting is not just at the high school level. Even over the past few years when the high school band members went to recruit younger players, I could see that the group at WIS was dwindling, and it was certainly nowhere near as large as it had been when I was there.
My sister has also been involved in the Music Programs until recently. She began playing viola in 4th grade and continued through the schools up until two years ago (she now plays in a group outside of the school program). During her time at WIS, there were several threats of cutting out their strings program due to budget cuts. I remember my parents going to numerous meetings trying to fight for the continuance of the program at the Intermediate School level, because without it, they feared my sister would have to give up playing. The program was allowed to continue, but under the instruction of three different directors over the course of my sister’s remaining time at Walsh. This surely must have had an impact on what she learned; she ended up going to private lessons after school because of all the confusion going on within the program. There were also many students that quit orchestra during this chaotic time, leaving very few who actually continued into high school.
I will admit, upon entering high school, I was absolutely terrified of joining the band. I considered quitting band because of the negative rumors I had heard about the band. However, I stuck with my love for music and enrolled in Freshmen Band (an option which is no longer offered due to budget cuts). I remember a couple of students from our small group quit within the first week of school because they felt that bringing home their instruments every night and being expected to practice their music was too much of a commitment. The rest of us, however, stuck through it even though we usually had no idea what Mr. Samodel was trying to teach us to do. Intonation? Posture and air flow? Rhythms? These concepts were all very foreign to us, well at least to me. This may have just been because I was still a pretty inexperienced player or because the WIS Band did not provide opportunities to learn different techniques, but either way, I would never have learned these essential music basics had I not joined the high school’s instrumental music program.
To address some of the issues discussed regarding Mr. Samodel’s teaching style: I think some people don’t seem to understand how much of a commitment band requires, especially with one that is so small. As Gio pointed out, each of us HAD to be responsible for our own parts, because most of the time we were the only ones on a part. Even if we were not the sole person playing our part, we still had a responsibility to the rest of the band members to know our music. When playing in a group, all the members have to be accurate and play, well, as a group. Mr. Samodel’s strict enforcement of needing to know one’s music is just like any other teacher who would expect you to do your homework. And in band, it’s not like there are written tests (although there were a few ‘pop quizzes’ to make sure people were practicing). Instead, we have performances. Yes, there are quite a few performances, but in joining band, one should realize that and be prepared to attend them all, and if one cannot be attended, then a makeup assignment seems like the only fair solution (would any other teacher allow a student to miss a test/project without making it up?). Sure, sometimes Mr. Samodel would get a little too frustrated with us when we were having a bad rehearsal, but I would be upset too if I were a teacher who assigned something to my students and they chose not to work on it outside of school. And if you think some of Mr. Samodel’s ways were too tough, just wait until you see the directors of college bands…mine had no problem swearing at members for not being prepared or following cues. It was scary.
There were times when yes, band felt a little overwhelming to me. As an underclassman, those would be the times when I went to my section leader to ask for help because that was what she was there for. Then, when I became section leader, I tried my best to help the other students who may have been struggling and bring any concerns to the attention of Mr. Samodel so that we could try to fix any issues. I never found any of his requests to be too unreasonable, but if there ever were problems, all the sections leaders would be able to sit down and try to rectify things with him. I developed a pretty good relationship with Mr. Samodel towards the end of my time at BHS, and I even asked him to write me a recommendation as I applied for schools and scholarships. The band as a whole became a very close-knit family where we all got to really know each other (this was actually one of the benefits of it being so small) and I made some of my very best friends while playing in the BHS Band. Mr. Samodel always told us to play as “One Band, One Sound,” be proud of our “Tiny, Mighty Band,” and “Don’t play notes, play music.” I learned a whole new level of responsibility and leadership from playing under his direction. Because I loved music so much, I joined the Concert Band at my college last semester. It was…different, to say the least. I never realized how much Mr. Samodel actually taught us. So many students had no idea what it meant to play in tune. They had difficulty reading some simple rhythms (some of which were found in an advanced piece that had been tried at BHS, but couldn’t perform due to our size), difficulty with balancing with each other, and difficulty following the director. A fellow flute player actually told me that because some of the notes were so high, she just opted not to play large sections of some songs! I had thought the techniques we learned at BHS were obvious, but apparently other directors don’t feel the need to establish strong basic skills as Mr. Samodel strived to do.
Some of you may feel that parts of this comment aren’t really relevant, but I felt that it was my job to share with everyone about my enjoyable experience in the BHS Band. I truly miss that band (ask the current members…I visit a lot) and would hate to see it continue to decline.

posted by: BHS Band Member on February 6, 2010  11:21pm

I would like to ask Susan Barnes a question…I would like to ask you how you can say that Music is not an essential program. Do you not understand the importance of music in our lives? If it wasn’t so important, why would we be fighting so hard to keep it? Just because we are so little doesn’t make us anyless important. I personaly am hurt by your statement. I think that music is essential in ANYONES life and in ANY school.

posted by: Kelsey Mullane on February 7, 2010  12:08am

I have to say after reading the comments made on this message board I am disgusted by some of the comments and acusations that are being made. The whole purpose of this article is not to bash Mr. Samodel it is to bring awareness to what is happening to the program. I will admit that I am not Ted Samodel’s biggest fan and even if his teaching policies are corrupt that is a whole other issue.

I too was involved with the Branford Strings Orchestra for several years before I quit. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons as to why I quit was the Lack of a Professional Strings Teacher. Although, Mr. Samodel is a highly qualified and highly capeable musician he specializes in brass instruments and does not play a stringed instrument. Therefore, he can only tell us how we are supposed to sound and not how to make the sound. As a result, many students felt that they were simply not being taught and dropped the class in favor or private orchestras.

Secondly, the decline in the program is something that had been forseen for years. When I first started the middle school program there were about 40 kids when I left there was about 15. Interest also dwindled in the band. Who knows why this is happening; maybe because students wanted to spend the activity period ( time in which band and choir took place in the middle school) doing their homework along with the other children who chose not to take part in the music program. Or maybe it was the lack of a proper teacher. Over the years WIS has not been able to hold a strings teacher. In fact, withing the past 6 years walsh has had 4 different string teachers. Like Patricia Liu said before me It’s not just band and orchestra that decreasing it’s choir too and in order to have a successful high school program you need to have a succesfull feeder program. Within the past few years many cuts have been made to the music program. For example, Strings is no longer taught in the Elementary schools. There is a critical period for skill development which occurs from about age 2-8 in which students can rapidly pick up skills like language and music and during this period they can become truly proficent. Why aren’t we taking advantage of this? As of right now we aren’t taking advantage of this; thus, the shrinking talent pool.

Thirdly, I would just like to Address a comment made by Susan Barnes. You are totally entitled to your opinion; however, what if this program was something that your child loved. This program is just as important to these kids as the football team is to football players or the track team is to runners. Hardly making it nonessential. The money that is put into this program pales in comparison when you see a child’s face glowing with excitement and passion from playing that musical instrument. Isn’t that what we should be thinking about here? How to provide for those kids who do truly love music? Just some food for thought there.

posted by: Fed up with the negativity on February 7, 2010  11:31am

I didn’t intend to respond to this blog even though I have been following the comments. I think the piece was well written but I also believe that the writer was ill advised to address the issue through the one dimensional lens of the teacher. The music program at the high school is a reflection of the lack of resources that are available in the school district. A music program must be built from the bottom up. We don’t have a program in Branford that allows students to progressively refine their skills as they move through the grades. The solution lies in the development of a sustainable music programthat begins in grade school.
this brings me to the comments from Ms susan Cosgrove Barnes… She complains about the money being spent on education in Branford and seems to resent the fact that working people meed to make adecent living, even if they are teachers. this coming from someone whose family amassed a fortune from the gullible taxpayers of Branford by buying property cheap and selling it back to the town for enormous profit.
Such contempt seems unnecessary as well as conterproductive in a place like Branford.

posted by: susan barnes on February 7, 2010  4:25pm

To Fed up with negativity and Afraid to identify yourself:

...  your gratuitous remark about “my family” which means my father, Dan Cosgrove, ( since it was so important to you to point out my maiden name)is despicable.  Point out the instances of land he bought “cheap” and “sold back to the town”  (- did the town sell it him cheap and then want it back ?) at an enormous profit. I want a list, please.  For your information, Dan Cosgrove offered the Tabor property to the town for 2 million dollars and the offer was declined by folks ... that were so worried about the amount of money he would make on the deal.  WHAT has that piece of property taken by eminent domain cost us so far? Two million sounds pretty good today doesn’t it?  And tomorrow we will find out the final tally.
But let me tell you something Fed up with negativity and afraid to identify yourself, Dan Cosgrove “amassed his fortune” by being on the job at daybreak and returning home at dark, by diligence, intelligence, risktaking, shrewdness, vision and by the grace of God whom he never forgets to thank for his good fortune. He did this until he was over 80 years old. And he has given a whole lot more to Branford and hundreds of her residents, as well as MANY others, than he took from it, so know of what you speak.

posted by: susan barnes on February 7, 2010  4:39pm

Kelsey and BHS student - I am not against the music program and understand it is meaningful to those who participate in it.  How do you respond to Gov Rell’s statement that the cost of government ( and that includes the cost of education) has outgrown the taxpayers ability to pay for it. WHERE does it stop?  Perhaps the parents of the musically inclined have to pay for their kids music programs themselves, so that their out of work neighbor, spending down his savings in order to keep his home does not have to pay increased taxes.  Think of his kids’ faces glowing with tears when the bank forecloses. Reading, math, science these are the essentials, I think.  Something has to give.  What is it? What can be cut?  Where do you see money being saved?

posted by: susan barnes on February 7, 2010  5:32pm

Tom indicates he never received a message re the charity event. That being so, I apologize and, as I said ignore, the comment.  Is there another fellow who was given the information?

posted by: Yet Another Band Student on February 7, 2010  5:49pm

...As a member of the Band, I would rather not see it cut. As it is right now, **the students buy their own instruments, gowns/tuxedos, and uniforms**, Mr. Samodel buys some of the music, and the only things that the taxpayers are paying for are his salary and the non-existing heat in the Band room. There are 23 students in either the Band or Orchestra program at the high school, which is a bit different from your original total of 7. All of us have worked extremely hard to make the best of a bad situation and would hate to see the program die.

What do we give back to the town of Branford? The BHS Band (what’s left of it) plays at the Memorial and Veterans’ Day Parades, football games, school pep rallies, in addition to the concerts it holds. I’d say that we do a lot more for Branford than classes on video games.

I truly believe that music is an essential program. I do agree with you that math and science are extremely important, but those two subjects alone do not make the world go ‘round. Music has a dual nature: it is equal parts art and science. The science behind music is essentially the physics of sound; certain tones are produced because of the construction of the instrument, certain chords sound pleasant to the human ear because the sound waves interact in certain ways, etc. The passion in music and the flexibility in expressing it is what allows the notes to transcend above their lowly places on the staff to a marvelous sound that words simply fail to describe. Music is the result interaction between all the other disciplines we learn in school: grammar, science, psychology, math, etc. It isn’t an obvious result as each individual component contributes subtly. This is what we learn in our music program: to play the music, not the notes. We try and create an art out of much drier components. I don’t say that we succeed all the time, but we are learning.

If I may ask this, Ms. Barnes, what would you have me learn if not music? I would say that there is no class in BHS that could possibly take the place of Band for me.

We’re an endangered species. The normal procedure for endangered species is to try and save them. That’s what we’re trying to do now. It may be too late, but we have to at least try. As I’ve stated before, all of us involved in the Band and Orchestra programs have given a lot to try and keep them going. I don’t think that we’re asking for much - just a bit of interest in the fate of the program.

posted by: Jacqueline Polverari on February 7, 2010  5:53pm

WOW…I guess Jenna did a better job than anyone can imagine with what I have read.  Awesome Jenna, don’t let anyone tell you that you should not have written a very bias, factual article based on the information that was presented to you.  I respect all opinions as we sometimes learn much from debating and other views that people may have, however things are getting completly off the main topic and that is The Branford Instrumental Music Program Decline.  The article was wrtten NOT to hurt anyone, NOT to get anyone fired but for the only reason of AWARENESS to the community for a major problem that has been ongoing.  I agree with everyone who states we have to also look at the WIS program and I commend you all that have offered genuine suggestions of where to go from here because isn’t that what counts.  I also believe its okay to do a little finger pointing and saying how did we get here because that is what is natural after all we are all humans.  But PEOPLE… you are all getting off track.  I am asking PLEASE do not make this about an apparent volatile woman who has no children in the program and has decided to go on a rampage about unnecessary, meaningless verbage that has NOTHING to do with again, the original meaning of this article.  Please dont even bother to respond.  We all know that as well intentioned Ms Barnes-Cosgrove is she has nothing to do with BHS, or the kids at BHS or this music program.  So lets just chalk her comments up as duly noted.  Now my suggesstion is for all of you to show up to the next board of education meeting with the same passion that I have read here about saving this program and going forward on fixing the program.  Despite many opinions that has been my goal from day one.  But as all humans I am entitled by my constitutional right of freedom of speech to state some FACTS that are a problem with the personnel.  These are NOT my personal opinons, they are just FACTUAL things that can be fixed, but do need to be addressed.  NEVER have I ever made the statement or suggestion to fire anyone completly.  BUT I do think that things need to be re-evaluated as to the teaching environment and who teaches what with improvements all around.  But again, even teachers… need to improve.  So lets take a step back.  Posting comments are a great informational venue but we are (I hope) an intellegent, passionate, caring community talking about a VERY controversal situation.  We can do it with respect.  It is much nicer to be on task and just be nice to each other.  If you are reading this article, if you are commenting on this article that means this subject means something to you.  Share your thoughts and be prepared to stand up in a public forum and follow through with those thougts.  We should all be working together as EVERY comment agrees SOMETHING has to be done for this program.  And Nick…No worries all is good.

Jacquie Polverari

posted by: SJ on February 7, 2010  6:16pm

.. Some kids who attend Branford High school plan to dedicate their lives music. Whether it is to become a music teacher, a musician, or whatever they want to do in life. Music is absolutely an essential part of learning for some students. If we get rid of music then you are giving them a huge disadvantage. Not all families can afford to give their children private lessons. Music is already expensive, from buying an instrument, to keeping up with repairs, and even buying reeds or rosin. By adding the need to pay for lessons or a band/orchestra to play in, would even farther put strain on the parents.If we get rid of music in schools we would be destroying students dreams. In troubled times the idea is not to be selfish.

posted by: Kelsey Mullane on February 7, 2010  8:23pm

Susan Barnes

You raise an interesting point; However, I propose cutting uneccesary “things” before people.Most of your tax increases are not funding the orchestra and the band. In fact, they barely get any funding.  This year many teachers throughout the branford school system have recieved numerous technology upgrades. One of them being “Smartboards”. 6/8 of my teachers have them in their classrooms. I have one teacher who uses it on a fairly regular basis. Even though she uses it often she could make due with a simple projector onto a white board (what most teachers used before smartboards were installed) SmartBoards really are in fact just touchscreen whiteboards. The only class that i can see that might really need them are the various technology classes and some math classes( although none of the math teachers I have had ever had a smartboard). Maybe we can start there. Go through who is getting technology upgrades and decide if it something that is truly neccesary and detrimental to their teaching. You also suggested that the parents of the musically inclined might pay for lessons themselves. Private lessons and symphonies are quite expensive. Private lessons can range anywhere from 45 dollars a lesson upwards to 100. Right now my family pays 60 dollars an hour for my lessons; additionally, my orchestra tution isn’t cheap. I believe it’s roughly 500 dollars a year (although i’m not exactly sure of that number it may be a little bit more or less)And for big concerts that are farther away in which we would need busses to get there and would stay overnight theres about 300 dollars right there. Overall, it’s not cheap for a parent to finance something like this on their own and many people use instrumental classes offered at schools instead of private lessons because they simply cannot afford it.

not saying that technology upgrades are a bad thing but from my standpoint we should compromise a little bit everywhere.

posted by: susan barnes on February 7, 2010  8:55pm

A taxpayer has nothing to say about how their money is spent!  And money IS the issue, is it not? How many people in Branford, or any other town, do NOT have kids in the school system? We still pay the taxes that help pay for the programs you all want for your kids.  But you say we are not to be heard.  LAUGHABLE, typical - and no longer worth discussing.

posted by: Samantha Traylor on February 7, 2010  11:43pm

Susan Barnes, as the town is not levying taxes specifically for the benefit music program, and since all students have to buy their own instruments and pay to keep them up, why do you say that this is a waste of taxpayers money?

posted by: R.F.O on February 8, 2010  1:18pm

I am a self employed music and instrument teacher in the Branford area.
I have had students from BHS that had no kind words about the band programs and the way they are handled.Good for Jenna for speaking up and writing this article.The Board of Education needs to be roused from their slumber here.not just Branford,but the entire state of Connecticut.
The BOE needs to keep music and the arts alive.There seems to be funding available for everything else,but the Arts always get cut first.We need incentives and further programs and shows to help fund this most important part of our children’s education.And,most importantly,Teachers that are dedicated to that cause.    RFO

posted by: Steve Roberts on February 8, 2010  1:22pm

On the issue of taxpayer money….

There are numerous studies, which I’d be happy to post for those interested, which clearly show that elimination of a music program results in a net cost increase not decrease. This has to do, in part, with the number of students in band, orchestra, choir classes compared to class size limitations in science, math, etc. and the resulting staffing issues that naturally arise. Please don’t draw the conclusion that we should only consider the 2 dozen or so students in instrumental music now. Consider instead what the cost difference would be between a strong music program, which we have seen in the past, and nothing, since our choice at this point is to rebuild it, or just let it go. Also consider the impact that the elimination of the program would have on the rest of the music classes, choir, etc.

Those are direct measurable costs. Further, consider what one of the the primary factors is in determining property values…the strength/reputation of the local school system. I teach at Staples HS in Westport and, while there are many people here with money, there are also those who come and stretch their budget to its limit to have their kids attend. The reason is not just the academic reputation…its the strength and dedication that the town has made to arts and to athletics, in addition to academics. While Branford differs greatly from Westport socio-ecomonically, the underlying premise is still the same…a strong arts program, which generally has music as its core, serves to increase property values for every resident, regardless of whether you have children in our school system.

You also have to consider that our schools are compelled to provide for EVERY student…vast sums of money are spent on special education to meet these students’ needs or to provide a ‘peanut-free’ classroom for students with severe allergies and its my beleif that we should provide for these students. Similarly, there are groups of students in every school who do not thrive academically but have tremendous talent…we provide opportunities for those who are instead athletically talented. Should we not provide an opportunity to meet the needs of those whose talent lies in music?

If academic performance is your primary concern, I also have other studies that provide clear linkage between music and academic performance. As an earlier poster pointed out, music is very much math and science, but in a language that students who dont typically do well in these subjects can better understand. This is NOT because they are less intelligent, no more than I should be considered stupid because I cannot play music, or dance with any rhythm whatsoever or draw or paint…its just that their strengths lie elsewhere. As Emerson said, “Every man is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him (or her)”. Many times the study of music will help these students perform better academically, and not just because they are happier and feel good about at least some part of school because someone has honored THEIR talent and provided a place for THEM to shine. There is actually a physiological impact for many students…the study of music appears to have an impact on providing the ‘wiring’ or pathways needed to better understand academic subjects like math and science.

The results of all this? Happier, more well-adjusted teenagers (although I hesitate to use the words well adjusted and teenager in the same sentence) = less discipline/management issues + higher test scores + better school system reputation = higher property values and potentially, even without any net cost increase.

A word on one place where the $ is being spent now….

The $ spent on technology? I am a huge advocate of technology in the classroom and I’ve given several seminars to teachers on the subject, but Kelsey has a point…the vast majority of it remains under-utilized or not used at all, which is a real shame. Why then do we continue? Well, in recent years, its because our superintendent is fond of regurgitating verbage about “21st century skills” as a basis for that spending, without the proper understanding and planning necessary (Much of the related content in last year’s budget presentation was cut and paste from the website of those who developed a canned “21st century skills” program.) These skills are indeed important, but you will never teach these skills to students by purchasing thousands of dollars worth of technology without the infrastructure to support its use, training teachers to use it (this is being done) and developing the buy-in from teachers prior to training (this is not being done).

Teachers hear about and are trained in “new and improved” ways to teach via professional development all the time. But many view it as a waste of time, because, for instance, when Dr. Halligan is gone, her replacement is likely to do just what she did…seek to put their own programs in place…before which they rarely seek input from the people who will be implementing it…so they can take credit and be re-appointed. (One has only to look to the math program and Laura Troidle’s work to see a glaring example of this) As a result, teachers may attend training, but many do not get enough training, have a strong enough tech background and/or do not really believe that it will improve teaching so the technology winds up sitting idle.

I’m sorry if I sound preachy or opinionated…education is a subject I am passionate about and I do tend to ramble on and get a bit exercised. It’s just so important to our kids’ future and all of our futures as a town, state or country. We really have to begin to make it a priority, not a political football, and do it intelligently, not just throw money at it so we can say we did something good. Education is not leverage…it’s too important.

Sorry, I’m stopping now.

posted by: K. McNally on February 8, 2010  1:36pm

My daughters are out of school now.  My youngest graduated last year.  She was not in the music program but my neice was and I constantly heard how arrogant Mr. Samodel was.  She is not the only one I have heard it from.  She was in band and orchestra.  He is not open minded and it is quite evident that as the demise of our orchestra/band comes near we can see one of the major problems.  The other problem also comes down to money.  I ask you has anyone seen what our Superintendent or School Administrators are making?  Do they do their job for the good of the student or the good of their pocket?  I am not coming down on teachers because a lot of them do not get what they deserve and they are the ones teaching our children some should get more and some a lot less.  I guess as in the corporate world the higher up you are the more money you make.  This should not be true in education.  Money should be going to educating our children not lining the pockets of administrators. I saw on the news also that girls and boys basketball and baseball/softball, which my daughter did play is also talk for the chopping block.  Why can’t our administrators get it?  Freeze your pay, cut your pay a little and see how much benefit the children will have.  Again it comes down to greed, greed and more greed on the part of the people running the show.

My dad went to school in Branford, I went to school in Branford, my daughters went to school in Branford and my grandaughter may go to school in Branford.  It is so sad to see how a once thriving education system in the State of Connecticut can be brought down by a bunch of people who don’t want to see what they are doing and just don’t care.  They will cut programs at the cost of our children, blame the public and when there is nothing else for them to gain they will move onto another job.

posted by: Laura on February 8, 2010  3:07pm

After reading through Jenna’s first blog and glancing through the 50+ responses to date, it is clear that parts of the BHS music program are yet another casualty of the chaotic status of our educational leadership.

We each have different priorities.  No one particular issue is more important than the other.  I happen to be most concerned about “the math”, but also elementary school reading and writing.  I am sympathetic to the concerns Jenna raises as well as to the many people who have tried in vain to change it.

I am also sympathetic to the tax payer who equally deserves a seat at this table.  After all, about 50% of our tax revenue goes toward education.  Yet, a much smaller percentage of the population is comprised of families in the system.

We need our BOE and our central office to be accountable to its citizens.  We need answers.  Most of all, we need a strong leader with a solid strategic plan supported by the very citizens it serves. The support can only come if all voices are listened to and if all processes are truly transparent.  We don’t need a BOE trusting of central office.  We need a BOE accountable and transparent to the citizens who elected them.

A trust in the system is sorely missing and needs to be earned back.  And it can.
The citizens are increasingly aware of the issues at large and are seeking solutions.  We do not pretend to have all of the answers, but we do have suggestions.

Jenna said it so well.. “Without the proper recognition, communication, and mediation of this issue, no progress will be made and students will continue to suffer from a lack of direction.”

This is certainly true of all of the issues being raised in Branford.

Congrats Jenna!

posted by: BeCool on February 9, 2010  1:46am

Let’s deliver solutions, not problems. Here’s the one simple answer. make band COOL. make orchestra COOL. that’s what East Haven has done. COOL for everyone, the linebackers on the football team, the dancers, the baseball pitchers, the cheerleaders, the science geeks. Computer dudes. COOL for everyone. After all it’s music.Music knows no bounds. Have music define COOL, as it should. Pick COOL music. Use music to bring people from all walks of BHS together. BAND=COOL. Use PR. Perception is reality.

The joys need to exceed the pain. Promote self confidence. They are teeenagers. Da.

Watch the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. Mrs R,  hey she knows, she has tried to make and keep choir COOL. Why fewer guys trying out? think about it. the answer is in front of you. (not as COOL for many boys as it once was) The successful programs attract teens by being COOL and by making them comfortable and fun. Deliver COOL. Success breeds success. Remain positive. Build confidence in teens, and simple, just make it good, make it be COOL.

Why does Branford Field Hockey thrive? It’s COOL. (and girls soccer suffers a bit, maybe not as COOL. Joy should beat out Pain.) Model Congress? It’s COOL. KIds are attracted to success. Use +++PR. They are made to feel comfortable. The joys must exceed the pain. Part of the program design must include a tradition of COOL.
Xcountry has risen. Why? It’s comfortable. Joys exceed pain. No one should feel bad. Everyone should think COOL.

Sell kids COOL and they will come by the boat load. You’ll be turning them away for lack of room, instruments and seats. Maybe Mr Teach just can’t deliver COOL, not everyone knows how. Get someone who can make it COOL.

posted by: Holly Dana on February 10, 2010  11:52am

The question at the heart of this article was “So why is it that at Branford High School the music program is being run into the ground?” I believe Jenna Grande has a great start to an article but I would love to see her expand on it. Please Jenna you obviously have a talent for what you do and I believe you have started a fire in the comments below your article for both pro and con.
The attitude of high school students toward the program seem to be very passionate from the comments that I have read including those who did and did not stay with the program. If this program is so successful in other schools why not find out WHAT the difference is in the attitude of those students and compare them to that of the Branford students? If you find the positive and good share that with us so we can build on it to bring the music program alive again.
While I am a mother of a former band, orchestra, and choir student, I am also a former member of the band when I was in school, I can say the attitude towards the music program varies depending on whether the issue of music and playing , practicing, or teacher involvement. I can say I loved being a part of it (100%). I can also say every single one of my teachers were a positive role model. In regards to my daughter’s experience I cannot say the same for her. Although many were a positive role model in the earlier grades, high school was not so happy. When your child comes to you in their senior year in tears and asks to transfer to another school because they are miserable most parents would think it’s another kid that is bullying them not a teacher. There are 2 music teachers so please do not include Ms R in this, she is a fabulous teacher.
Jenna, your next important question was; Is it because of the miniscule funding and attention this program receives from the Board of Education? I believe this is a very important issue but you left it hanging. I agree with the comment from K. McNally on February 8th. The money that our superintendent or school administrators are making is the money should be going to educate our children. For those of you who have commented on where your tax money is going. Whether you have children or not, children are our future and they will be the next to make decisions that will affect your future no matter what career they follow. No job is unimportant, music teacher, math teacher, science teacher, medical field, retail, stay at home parents (yes that is a job, try doing it and not get paid) or the person at the cash register at the market or drive through. We all get paid more or less but should our students suffer while others paid such large pay checks? Freeze your pay, cut your pay, consolidate your jobs, do a little more for less or at least the same and give back to our kids. Jobs are hard to find out there and many of us are doing the same job we used to for less, why not you (admin/higher ups…not the teachers).
Your next question which seems to be one of the most sensitive is; “Is it because of music director Ted Samodel? “ Before I put my 2 tax cents in on that question, I would like to make note of something one of my first employers told me about when it comes down to compliments and complaints and the general public.  For every one letter written comment, compliment or complaint, there are 9 more people out there that feel the same but just have not put it in writing. As I scroll over the comments there are 53 comments on this subject. Not every comment was on the Samodel issue but there were 8 pro-Samodel and 16 against-Samodel.  So if you go with my old employer’s theory it is very obvious that the community is not happy with him in general.
The issues I have seen firsthand I would like to share. This may be a demanding class but it is not an AP class. If your child was in math or science, yes there is homework, but if your child needed help in that class then the teacher could help them (maybe after school). My daughter started in orchestra with Mr. Samodel as a freshmen having played in Murphy and WIS. He is not a string teacher. I was told that my daughter should take private lessons when she got to high school. I explained that I was not financially able to do this. I was already paying for drum lessons outside of school since she did not take drums in school. The comment that she should consider private lessons was also made on her report card. In her junior year she agreed to play drums in the band since the numbers dwindled.  Now she had played 4 years prior on a drum set, she had no experience with walking and playing in a marching band. The first parade was only 2 months into school. The comment I actually heard made to my daughter and the other drummer was “if the two of you don’t get a beat together, I don’t know what we are going to do with the rest of this parade”.  Although this was not the first unsupportive comment she had heard, I believe not only was it unprofessional to be said at all to someone only 2 months in, let alone out loud in such a public venue. Many of times my daughter would confide in me but beg me not to say anything because it would only make matters worse.  A student should not be in fear of a teacher for such actions.  Another parade incident occurred at the end of her senior year when she was asked to play the cymbals’, which she never had before. Of course there were no instructions as to how to properly hold or play them while marching. During a practice for the Memorial Day parade she incurred a bruise on her left arm approximately 7 inches long and 4 inches wide. Now most of us know prom season falls during this time also and of course she already had her dress picked out, sleeveless and strapless, red dress and there’s this bruise that can be seen in most of the pictures. If a science teacher gave a student an assignment that require the use of a Bunsen burner and gave no instruction on how to safely use one and that student got hurt that science teacher would be held responsible. 
Every student handles stress in their own way. Some can handle it more than others and it also depends on where their goals lay. If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. Unfortunately for Ed Tankus’s daughter not only did she quit Mr. Samodel’s class she is no long involved in music at all. For my daughter she has know since early WIS that she wants to be a music teacher and so she refused to quit no matter how bad the class got. Just as the next comment from “Anonymous” wrote, ”honestly students take it a bit too personally”. Yes they are STUDENTS, they are still kids and everything is personal. They feel things more still because they haven’t hit the real world yet, which is harsh. Do we need to make high school that harsh too?  And please do not mix that up with hard work. I agree with the next comment from Jacqueline, “that it is the duty of the administration to foster a feeling of good self esteem and if a teacher is actually doing the opposite that is simply not ok”. Once my daughter was able to get a job (after she graduated) she began to take private violin lessons at Neighborhood Music. The violin teacher there reassured her that she was a wonderful violinist that just needed a few improvements and she was surprised how advanced she was with the lack of instructions over the last 4 years. Thank goodness for good teachers because my daughters self esteem has finally started to come back.  Just for the record Music Theory was not offered when my daughter was a sophomore so she applied, was accepted and took the class (as a high school sophomore) at Gateway Community College where it was offered. It was an evening class which did not interfere with school. It was not an easy class, but she worked hard and enjoyed it and the professor enjoyed her presence. The Music Theory class was offered in her senior year of high school which she did take, although I am unaware of whether this class was ever offered again. Another comment made also by Jacqueline was, “It is absolutely inappropriate to have a prayer group in the band room and then advertise it on the band website” which had I had known about his while my daughter was still in school I would have taken this one up immediately. It is one thing to have a group or club before or after school even if it is a prayer group and even if it is in the band room, but once it has crossed the line and comes into the classroom that is a whole different story. I asked my daughter if this was true and she told me of several comments that were made during class time.  Another comment made was on the lack of time devoted to this class since there are so many other options out there for the students now. Yes there are but when a student would like to explore or be involved in more, it should not be held against the student. My daughter was also on the swim team. It was a difficult task since the girls swim team co-insides with the football season. This may not seem like an issue but the band plays at the home games. There were many of times that my daughter would go to her meet, swim her heat, leave as soon as she was done even if the team wasn’t done drive to the football field throwing her band uniform on over a wet bathing suit in the car while I was driving just to make it to the game on time. There were a couple of times that she didn’t get to walk with the band to the bleachers but was there before the games started. There was no support found for such efforts to be on time, only comments for being late. There are many other issues I could call upon but I don’t want to be accused of bashing but one other situation that really needs to be addressed. There was an orchestra concert that was held at the WIS unfortunately it was scheduled for the same night as a concert choir at the high school. Several students are involved in both the orchestra and the choir which would make sense if you plan to major in college in music. One would think this would have been coordinated a little better.  My daughter had several songs to sing with more than one group including a solo with choir, this would be the last time they would be singing together. The violin concert consisted of just a few songs. Each teacher gave her the option to make her own decision on where to go. When she was face with the choice it was easy to choose, she chose to sing. The comment made to her was “I thought you would have made a better choice than that.” Not only were comments made to her directly but we were told by those who went to the orchestra concert that comments were made to the audience that there were students missing. 
There is another issue that Jenna did not touch on that she may not be aware of. Students in WIS are not provided with times for private and group lesson that do not interfere with some other class. This is nothing new. I dealt with it when I was in band when it was called BIS. Students have to leave during academic time and also during activity time. This is disruptive to any classroom, teachers begin to resent it, students are required to make up this missed time, like any middle school kid is going to go out of their way to get their work they missed. My younger daughter who is in 8th grade now played violin in 4th and 5th, drums in 5th and tried the flute in 6th. Although she played the drums from 5 years privately she did not have the dedication, devotion or put in the effort that annoyed most teachers since she needed extra help on her academics.  On a personal level (and it was a long time ago) when I had to leave a home economics class the teachers told me “not during my class” , I don’t remember the grade I got for that class it wasn’t good but I can say I am glad I went anyway to my music lesson. I believe Guilford has some sort of a program that works with the music department, not against it. Maybe that is why Guilford’s Band is a success. This is also something to look into if we want to pull our music program out of the ground.
Albert Einstein was known as a great physicist, but he was also a great violinist. When he found himself stuck in a difficult math problem he would leave it and go play his violin. His theory was if he couldn’t find the answer in the right side of the brain then it must be on the left side. Math uses one side of the brain while music uses the other.  I don’t think he was wrong to often. A few other quotes by him are:
“After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved; science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.”
“One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect on me that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.”
“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. ... I get most joy in life out of music.” Albert Einstein

posted by: Tabby Prusski on February 10, 2010  3:57pm

I would like to commend my mother, former classmates, their parents, and fellow town members on being braver than I ever will be on this issue.  like many of the comments above mine I would also like to congratulate Jenna on writing an article on a topic that in my view has been pushed aside by the board of education and other administrators in the Branford public school system; I would love to see her follow up on what the BoE is doing to satisfy the needs of the students and parents of the community that are so passionate on the matter., if anything at all.

As for the matter itself, I have had many different feelings and opinions over the past decade of my involvement in the Branford public schools’ music program.  While I do agree with the many people, such as Jackie Polverari, in saying that there is more than one reason as to why the Branford high school instrumental program is not fairing as well as it once had in happier days when there was a brighter future for the program. Though I will be focusing here on the main reason of what I believe is the issue.
While many of those who either know me personally or indirectly know of my…distaste towards the high school’s instrumental teacher, and his mutual return of fire back to me (please read my mother, holly Dana’s, comments if you feel inclined to learn of what I personally went through)but I do not wish to relive any of those experiences nor do I wish to comment on any other comments related to this aspect of the issue, because no matter what you think of him, Ted Samodel’s actions and/or inactions will always have a direct effect(both positive and negative)on the program so long as he is the teacher of the classes in the high school and middle school; therefore I feel it is pointless to try and do anything in this respect. The only one who can do any change is Mr.Samodel himself.

However, as many comments have remarked the Branford Board of Education can be directly affected by members of the town and community… OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE COMMENTORS OF THIS ARTICLE!!! After many years of watching my beloved programs come up to be reviewed to be cut by the Board, I have come to the conclusion that when those who are in any way or form involved in said programs-whether it’s the instrumental programs in any or all of the k-12 schools, or the recently proposed cut of sports in the middle school-come to the meetings where these programs are going to be cut or not, show their support and yes, SPEAK INFRONT OF THE BOARD, are successful in keeping their programs going, though barely breathing. 

Music has been my passion for years and I know that it will continue until the day I die. I know 100% that there are others like me in the music program due to the very same reason that people like Kelsey, Gio, and others have mentioned; our closeness. Not only can this comradrie be found within small groups, it can also be found within larger groups like the high school’s choir program, which boasts an astounding 150 something membership. Many if not all of my friends have gone through the music or theatre program.  I can safely say that by getting rid of the program you will be cutting future friendships that could be very beneficial to the large scale picture of the real world. If there were to be no program how would the students like myself be able to meet the requirements of majoring in fields such as music education where taking an instrument and/or choir class all 4 years in high school is required to even apply let alone audition for a music major program in college?

in short by cutting such a program the heads of our schooling system would be not only depriving the students (a.k.a. the teachers of tomorrow) of a chance at making it into a job they love, thus depriving their constitutional right to pursuit of happiness, as well as very indirectly stifling the economy by inhibiting jobs. Also I am somewhat surprised that the town hasn’t had somebody commented in an attempt to make things right with its townspeople. Can somebody explain why I haven’t seen anything from them? Or am I just looking in the wrong places?

posted by: Anonymous on February 10, 2010  4:00pm


posted by: Nancy on February 15, 2010  2:31am

Why is it that the Principal, Lee Panagoulis made his assistant Briganti have a meeting with all of Samodel’s students with Samodel after school to discuss all that is going on?  Does he not think this is important enough for him to handle it himself?  After all that was said here in the comments these kids did not even get an apology from Ted Samodel.. what they were told by this professional teacher was that his “wounds were too open to discuss it”!  HIS wounds, how about the kids who he told were the vomit in the soup of the band?  Or the kids that he told were an embarrassment to the band, how about their wounds?  Is this guy that much of a self centered narcisist?  Why is he even being allowed to continue without an investigation into this book where he writes down his “put downs” to these kids, but what my daughter tells me is that the two students who wrote about this book were correct, it mysteriously disappeared.  I can tell you this, MY daughter will not be signing up for any of his classes next year and my son who is an 8th grader in the band will also not be signing up.  What is wrong with our administration when they are letting this stuff go un noticed.  I think maybe the state should get involved if the administration is ignoring it, after all it is abuse isnt it? - abuse to our children.  Like Ms. Dana said there are 16 complaints about this teacher in this forum alone.  when there is only 6 kids in the orchestra and 15 in the band thats almost 100%!  I am more concerned about THAT than anything else.  I think the music program will work itself out as these kids all seem passionate about keeping it in their hearts and the parents I have read like Mrs. Polverari and Mr. Roberts and Ms. Esposito seem to be advocates for the parents in fighting good arguments to the BOE.  But what about the MORE serious problem here besides the just the decline of the program, Ted Samodel.  I know that My duaghter has cried several times because of being belittled to complete embarrassment.  Is that harrassment or abuse?  Either way, shame on the school, the administration, the board of Education, and this town for allowing any of this.

posted by: Ray Ingraham on February 20, 2010  2:28pm

Jenna great job on this, I am sure you are learning more with this internship than you can get in any classroom. Be sure to sift through the “sides” and get the correct story out. We see so little of it from the professionals of late, be sure of yourself and push for the truth. I hope to to see your by line often !!

posted by: Rebecca on February 21, 2010  10:26pm