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Budget shortchanges students

The state budget debacle is already impacting northwestern Wisconsin. The Northland Youth Music Program is cutting a week out of its camp because of a funding shortfall.

The state budget debacle is already impacting northwestern Wisconsin. The Northland Youth Music Program is cutting a week out of its camp because of a funding shortfall.

Planners for the four-week music program were counting on a grant from the Wisconsin State Arts Board to help cover its costs.

The grant, worth up to $8,000, was approved by the arts board in March, but the money is tied to the state budget and cannot be dispersed until after the 2008 budget is signed, said Bob Greenberg, program director.

That means the music program is out thousands it had budgeted for this summer. The grant may still come through -- just not in time for 2007 students. If approved by the arts board, the Northland Youth Music Program will save the money for 2008, he said.

The Northland Youth Music Program is a summer program for band and choir students in grades 6-12. The program usually runs four weeks with the first two weeks for choir and concert band and the final two weeks for jazz band. The program is designed to be inexpensive so more students have a chance to participate. The advance sign up cost, is $75 per week for commuters and $280 for students staying on campus at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

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Tuition grants are given to local students who can't afford to pay the full cost of the program.

"We're building these kids up and making them want to stay in school," Greenberg said. "People from all over the region come."

The board decided to go ahead with the program earlier this summer, when the budget was not yet approved, but made an ultimate decision Friday to curtail the last week of camp.

Making out the payroll Friday, the program was $6,000 to $7,000 short, Greenberg said.

The board considered eliminating both weeks of jazz or laying off staff, but the instructors wouldn't hear of it.

All the instructors are donating part of their wages this week back to the program to help save a week of jazz.

The Northland Youth Music Program is too important for it to stop, said Adam Bever, band director.

The instructors were unanimous about the decision and are shooting for a donation of $3,000, he said.

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This program changes students' lives. Students from low-income schools can't get this sort of instruction, said Bever who teachers at Unity High School in Balsam Lake.

Bever has seen changes in some of his own students who have attended the music program. One shy student opened up while at UWS and went back to school a different kid, he said.

"That's one reason why I took a pay cut. We need to provide those opportunities for these kids," he said. "It's just so inspirational. ... It's more important than the money."

Greenberg said he was amazed by the instructors' generosity, but even with the donation the last week of the program is being cut. Parents have been notified of the change, and students signed up for the fourth week were given the option of attending next week instead. Spots for the jazz week are also still available to nonprogram students.

Parents have responded generously to the program's plight. Each Friday the students put on a free concert. Donations are accepted and concert-goers, mostly parents, donated $500 Friday night, Greenberg said.

They know what this music program means to the kids; it challenges them in their music, he said.

This week students are learning music composed by guest conductor Charles Young, a professor from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

One piece, "Tempered Steel" is a composition Young wrote for major university players, but the high school band students are attempting to learn it, Young said.

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If they learn it well enough, the gold concert band will play "Tempered Steel" Friday night with two other Young pieces.

The idea behind bringing Young and "Tempered Steel" to the music program was inspired by camper Laura Maguire, who heard the piece in school and wanted to learn it this summer, she said.

"I'm really excited to be able to play it," she said. " I think we're going to sound great."

Students in the program work to improve their music skills through large ensemble and have private music lessons. The students also receive instruction in music listening, scales and concert etiquette.

The music is hard at the middle school level. The band is learning is at the level played by eighth grade students, said Maria Drolson, Superior Middle School seventh grader.

The private lessons help a lot and are not available at school. The only students who get private lessons during the school year are those who can afford them outside of school, she said.

The Northland Youth Music Program board will probably raise tuition rates slightly next year but still offer an affordable program, Greenberg said.

"The whole point is to make enough to pay the bills and not turn kids away," he said. "It's been a very stressful, interesting year."

Call Anna Kurth at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail akurth@ superiortelegram.com.

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