By Terry Dean
The music's over for all those old instruments in use, and some not being used, at Oak Park elementary school District 97.
It was just time to replace many of the instruments, some of which are more than 50 years old, says Pam Wiese, a music teacher at Longfellow Elementary School, 715 S. Highland. Some of the instruments, like several pianos floating around the district's 10 schools, have been around since the 1960s. Those new instruments come with a hefty price tag: just over $83,000.
The D97 Board of Education is set to vote on the instrument bid this week.
The schools will receive nearly 100 new instruments — cellos, trombones, tubas, bass drums, and digital pianos, among other instruments. Brooks and Julian middle schools will each keep their grand pianos. Some schools also use portable keyboards. But all of the old, boxy, pedal pianos will be replaced with digital ones.
But these are not flat, portable, keyboard pianos, Wiese stressed. The brand the district is buying looks like a traditional piano. There is some loss of sound quality compared to acoustic pianos, she said, but the digital ones are the best option for the district financially. Some of the current pianos aren't even being used. The company providing the digital pianos will remove and dispose of those 21 old pianos.
"Our instruments do need to be replaced, but to get a good quality acoustic instrument, we were looking at double the price," Wiese said.
The new pianos total roughly $29,000. The string and wind/percussion instruments come in around $12,000 and about $32,800 respectively. Another $14,000 is for such "miscellaneous" items as bass drums, cymbals and xylophones. The digital pianos don't require the same kind of tuning and maintenance as acoustic versions, Wiese said.
A 20-year instructor in D97, Wiese, who teaches general music and vocal skills, remembers when students learned by reading their music books and following along with the teacher who would play on the piano. Those times have changed, she said.
Every primary music class in the district has a piano. In her third-floor classroom at Longfellow, Wiese's students also use other instruments, like smaller xylophones. Her class uses instruments to learn about rhythm, movement and language arts. Other classes focus more on teaching kids how to play instruments and performance.
"The students are making their own music and learning by playing," said Wiese, adding that she and other music teachers in the district do play instruments are varying skill levels. "I'm not a skilled pianist; some of the pianists wanted to keep some of their acoustic instruments, and they will," said Wiese, explaining that some current instruments still work fine.