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How music unites a community and its schools PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 03 December 2015 00:13

A music program left vulnerable by the funding squeeze not only excells at teaching students but elevates the culture of the entire community

The systematic reduction of state funding for public education in Wisconsin that began nearly five years ago threatens school music programs. The state aid cuts force priority-choices on school districts that necessarily favor core subjects over the arts. Music education programs are quite expensive and thus even more vulnerable.

How then do you explain the fact that music education in Port Washington-Saukville School District schools is thriving? 

The explanation is that the public school music program here belongs not just to the schools but to the community. It teaches students, of course, but at the same time it enriches the culture of the community, and residents respond with support that goes beyond paying school tax bills.

The school Christmas concerts featuring the concert bands, symphonic winds and jazz band that will be presented this month will be dutifully attended by proud parents and grandparents of the performers, but there will also be a great many in the audiences who are there just to hear stirring, entertaining music performed well.

Typically, the post-concert talk following performances by elementary and middle school music groups will be about how far and how fast the children have progressed in their musicianship and singing. But the comments after high school concerts will be of a different sort, often expressing astonishment at the musical sophistication and polish of the performers.

Similar responses are the norm at other concerts during the year and when high school music groups such as the madrigal and vocal jazz singers, Limited Edition a capella group and jazz band perform at events around the community.

Much of the credit goes to the heads of the high school’s stellar music department, Choral Director Dennis Gephart and Band Director Alan Dust, and other music teachers in the district, but it can be shared by the many school district residents who contribute their financial support to the music program. 

Encouraged by a very active Port Washington High School Music Boosters group, which functions as a non-profit organization that can accept tax deductible gifts, contributions from residents have purchased a splendid Steinway grand piano for the high school and are building a fund to replace ancient band instruments. Community fundraising efforts also help underwrite the cost of extracurricular music activities including band and choir trips.

A concert to be held in the high school auditorium on Jan. 2 is being billed as a music department fundraiser—and with sponsorship encouraged at various levels it will certainly be that—but it will also be a remarkable cultural event, a program featuring performances by scores of alumni of the Port High music program. It is a marker of the success of that program that about half of the graduates who will perform are pursuing music careers or are already working as performers and teachers.

The recent $49.4-million school referendum speaks to the place the music program occupies in the community. The high school improvements authorized by that vote include marvelous new spaces and facilities for music education and, notably, performances to which the public will be invited. That these significant expenditures were proposed by the school board and approved by voters is testament to the influence and importance to the community of the school district music program.

The state funding cuts that threaten music programs have been coming amid a drumbeat of disparagement in the Legislature for public schools and the quality of the education they provide. The music departments of the Port Washington-Saukville School District have an answer for that. Here public schools not only excel at teaching music but elevate the culture of the entire community in the process.

An immigrant holiday PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Tuesday, 24 November 2015 20:31

We are a country of humanitarian instinct that provides a safe haven for refugees fleeing tyranny. We are a country that protects freedom of religion for all who live on our soil.

Contrary to lore often cited disparagingly by his political opponents, President George W. Bush did not call on his fellow Americans to respond to 9/11 by going shopping. At least, not in so many words. What he said in an address to the nation following the terrorist attacks was, “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy.” 

The statement, unlike others by him following 9/11, particularly those that led to the disastrous invasion of Iraq, reflected sound judgment: The nation must not let its society and its economy be paralyzed by fear of terrorists.

Fourteen years later, some of Bush’s brethren in the Republican party are responding to a new terror attack, one not even on U.S. soil, with words that seem to be derived from fear so extreme they suggest not just paralysis, but a rejection of American values.

After terrorists killed 130 people in Paris, Donald Trump said all Muslims in America should have to register and be tracked on a database. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush said only Christian refugees should be allowed in the country. Ben Carson compared refugees to rabid dogs. Chris Christie said no Syrian refugees at all, not even children, should be allowed to enter the U.S. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Syrian refugees would not be allowed in Wisconsin. 

These words are not just panicked reactions to fear; they are, particularly in the case of the presidential candidates, attempts to exploit fear for political gain.

The words are undone by facts. The Paris attacks were not committed by Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees seeking to enter the U.S. are subject to a stringent vetting process. Those who are allowed in the country may not be prevented from living in any state they choose. Hundreds of thousands of American citizens are Muslims who contribute to the strength of this society and its economy.

Worse than their irrational basis, the words are alien to the values on which this nation is founded. We are a country of immigrants. We are a country of humanitarian instinct that provides a safe haven for refugees fleeing tyranny. We are a country that protects freedom of religion for all who live on our soil.

We are a country that this week is observing a uniquely American holiday that commemorates the gratitude expressed by some of our very first immigrants, some of whom were refugees who fled religious tyranny, for being able to live in a land where their ethnic origins and beliefs were no bar to enjoying freedom and plenty.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The lighthouse is in Port’s DNA PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 19 November 2015 14:34

The Port lighthouse beacon, flashing red every 2.5 seconds, and fog horn, sounding twice every 30 seconds, brought them home

No stories are more compelling than adventure stories. The stories of the role of the Port Washington lighthouse in the lives of the community’s mariners are true adventure tales that federal government officials should surely find compelling enough to help them decide, once and for all, that the lighthouse belongs to this city.

As part of the energetic campaign he is leading to persuade the General Services Administration to transfer ownership of the lighthouse to the city, rather than a private Michigan group that covets it, Mayor Tom Mlada has invited residents to share their own lighthouse stories.

There have been reminiscences about romance, fishing and inspiring lake views experienced in the vaulted space beneath the lighthouse tower at the end of the north breakwater. These are warm memories that help illustrate the place the structure occupies in community life, but they are really only decorative footnotes to the Port Washington lighthouse stories that matter most.

Those are the stories of the commercial fishermen for whom the lighthouse was an essential aid to survival—the survival of their livelihoods, the survival of their very lives.

The lighthouse was built—in 1935—during the heyday of the Port Washington fishing industry. The harbor then was home to a fleet of fishing vessels that ventured daily out onto Lake Michigan. Some of the boats tended trap nets near shore, but others steamed for hours offshore to the middle reaches of the lake where the fishing crews set and lifted gill nets on what they called Northeast Reef.

This was year-round seafaring. The fisherman plied their dangerous trade in the gales of November and December, the snowstorms of January and February, the blinding rainstorms of spring and fall, the violent squalls of summer and on any given day in nearly opaque fog, at times in dangerous sea conditions with ocean-size waves.

As aids to returning safely to their home port at a time when GPS was not yet even a science fiction fantasy, they had only a compass and the lighthouse. The fishermen were masters at the dead-reckoning form of navigation, but finding the harbor entrance in low visibility without a visual or aural beacon to home in on was more a matter of luck than skill.

The lighthouse fog horn, before it was toned down near the end of the 20th century (currently it operates at the command of boaters with a radio signal), was a deep baritone blast, so loud it rattled windows downtown. Some shore dwellers found it annoying, especially when it would sound for days on end during foggy stretches, but it was music to the ears of fishermen.

For many years in the life of the lighthouse, the freighters that brought coal to Port Washington and the tankers that brought oil and gasoline had no more sophisticated navigational devices than the fishermen. Dead-reckoning and the lighthouse with its beacon and its horn guided them here too. 

The fish tugs, coal boats and oil tankers are gone. The ubiquitous satellite navigation wonder of GPS has replaced dead-reckoning. Yet sophisticated electronic devices are vulnerable to failure, and the lighthouse remains needed by the sport fishermen and recreational boaters who pass it on their way into and out of the Port Washington harbor. Their stories of a working lighthouse are still being written.

The lighthouse is a pleasing subject of photos, paintings and memories, a tourist attraction and a fitting civic symbol, but its meaning to Port Washington is much more than any of that. It is stored in this seafaring community’s DNA. It is as much a part of its maritime history as are the fishing families—the Bosslers, Nagrockis, Cayners, Deckers, Wildhagens, Smiths, Ewigs and others—for whom the lighthouse was an essential part of a way of life. 

That makes it Port Washington’s lighthouse—and no one else’s.


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