Musical Blues

BY RUBEN GARCIA

Fallout of budget cuts affect music store owners

EUGENE, Ore.- On the corner of West Eighth Avenue and Monroe Street in Eugene, Oregon sits a music store called Pacific Winds Music. 9.5 miles away on 35th Avenue in Springfield, Oregon sits a music store called Blue Ridge Music. Decades ago music stores like these two were rampant in the Eugene-Springfield area. Now only two locally owned full service music stores remain and they are struggling to stay open. The cause? Budget cuts in the Eugene 4J school district and the Springfield school district

Prior to 1990 school districts throughout the state of Oregon flourished. Now these same school districts are clinging to life. Changes in how school districts received their money is the direct cause of this ongoing problem. In the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s individual school districts passed levees for their schools. Districts brought in tax money from their communities and then disseminated that money to their schools. The public school system thrived. In areas where the economy was booming, school districts boomed. There was money to spend. Then on November 6, 1990 this all changed.

One million people cast their votes and Measure 5 passed by a margin of 50,000 votes. The new law lowered and limited property taxes. It also shifted the way schools were funded. Local governments were no longer responsible for funding their districts, the state of Oregon was now responsible. Supporters of Measure 5 believed the law would equalize school funding throughout the state. Opponents of the law believed budget cuts would occur across the state and public school systems would suffer the most. 24 years later, it is the latter.

Arts, physical education, and music education were the first programs to be hit. For the owners of Pacific Winds Music and Blue Ridge Music, cuts to music education affect their businesses dramatically. 

Two years ago Carl Clausen inherited Blue Ridge Music from his late friend Warren Welford and times have been tough even since. Prior to taking ownership of the store Clausen spent his time repairing various instruments after graduating at the top of his class at an instrument repair school.

The store is adjacent to a rundown house that mill workers used to call home in the ‘80s. The eeriness and desolateness of the abandoned house creeps its way inside Blue Ridge Music. Dozens of instruments hang on the walls but no customers roam the store. Clausen spends most of his time in the back of the store repairing the few instruments that are sent to him. His 14 year old dog is all that keeps him company.

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Carl Clausen plays the piano at his store. Photo by Ruben Garcia Jr.

“The less funds available means less gets spent even though I lease instruments to first year students. Then having to compete with online businesses. It’s almost impossible to compete on pricing with the big stores like Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend,” said Clausen. Not only does Clausen have to deal with less and less money funneling and in and out of the doors of his music store, he also has to deal with franchise music stores on the internet that sell instruments at much cheaper rates. “It’s really tough, if my overhead wasn’t so low I’d be close. I wouldn’t be existing”, said Clausen.

Pacific Winds Music owner Patricia Knaus faces the same problems that Clausen does. “Veneta used to have a band and people came and leased their instruments from us and band directors had their repairs done, that’s totally gone”, said Knaus. With less money in music education programs, schools don’t get their instruments repaired that often. This not only causes a problem for music store owners who lose revenue, but also causes problems for students first learning an instrument. 

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Pacific Winds Music book. Photo by Ruben Garcia Jr.

When a student first wants to learn an instrument he or she must enroll in band or orchestral at their school. No problem there. Next comes picking an instrument. This is an important decision for both the child and the parent. A flute does not cost the same as a violin. A trumpet does not cost the same as a clarinet. Schools have instruments readily available and rent out their instruments to students.

If a student wants to play the flute, the school will rent the instrument to the student for $50. $50 is not a lot of money compared to flutes in stores and online that range from $150-$300. But these instruments are not in viable condition. They’ve been used by numerous students and are decades old. Same goes for other instruments. If parents don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on brand new instruments for their children they are left to rent the school’s instruments or the child cannot join the band or orchestral.

Steve Robare band director at South Eugene High School is accustom to issue. “If they can’t [afford an instrument] then I have school instruments. I just can’t guarantee them. If their kid has their heart set on flute if they get a clarinet that’s what they get”, said Robare. 

“Kids are starting on instruments that aren’t in ideal adjustment or playing condition and so they could be struggling and they may think it’s because they’re just learning when in fact it’s actually the instrument that is leaking or not playing the way it should be,” said Clausen. 

Clausen and Knaus recognize the struggles that they are facing and will continue to face. Each hopes that students will continue to enroll in band, orchestral and choir. Regardless of how much their businesses suffer both say it’s all about the children and the importance that music education has on the children.

“You’re learning math, you’re dealing with time signatures, hand eye coordination, working with a group, you’re all having to play at the same time so you’re having to deal with what’s happening beyond with what you’re just playing”, said Clausen.

Two music stores remain in an area that once thrived with music. Music education funds have been cut immensely. Students aren’t getting working instruments. In the midst of all this chaos, there remains a strong unified community that continues to power through hardship. And that is the real story.

A man on a musical mission 

Inside the music room of River Road Elementary sits a very busy and humble man. His name David Adee and his mission was to bring music and physical education back to every elementary school in the 4J school district.

Two years ago, six out of the 19 elementary schools in the 4J school district had music programs. Seven out of the 19 had physical education. Two or three schools were lucky enough to have both. With the help of superintendent Shelly Bergman and director of elementary instruction Sarah Cramer, a plan was put into place that would bring music and physical education to all 19 schools. 

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David Adee plays xylophone. Photo by Ruben Garcia Jr.

That plan proved to be successful.

In the first year of the program the trio was able to bring nine weeks of music and physical education to each elementary school. In the second year each elementary school received a full semester of music education and a full semester of physical education. 

“It’s like an emergency without music, P.E., art. It’s an emergency. You’ve got children that their basic needs are not being met,” said Adee. 

Having been a musician for 20 years, Adee knows the importance of music. He started off as a man who did not want to teach in the public school system. As he put it, “eight hours a day, five days a week. That wasn’t for me.” 

For a man who did not foresee himself ever teaching, he has changed the face of what music education is in Eugene, Oregon, 

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