Dave Whitney rings in new music academy at West Marin School

David Briggs
David Whitney rehearsed a song with students before a school concert on Monday. Mr. Whitney will begin teaching music full time at West Marin School next year.

A school community’s dream of a music program for all its students will become a reality next year after parents united in support and administrators tinkered with the budget to find the necessary funds. David Whitney will teach music full-time at West Marin School at no additional cost. Come August, he plans to teach a foundation of music appreciation, ear training and theory for kindergarten through fifth grade by practicing singing, strings, woodwinds and percussion. The upper-grade electives will include chances to play in bands that focus on rock, jazz or strings, training in music technology or digital recording or classes on songwriting or sight-reading and notation.

An unallocated portion of the parcel tax previously devoted to a computer teacher who retired at the end of 2013 will pay his salary, said Susan Skipp, the district’s chief business official. Shifting Mr. Whitney’s salary to the parcel tax will free up money to hire a part-time sixth grade teacher in his place. 

Over the past year, the music program has united the school community around a common goal, a momentum that is spilling over into a more positive culture throughout the district, where families feel invested in their schools and see administrators actively responding to their needs, said Superintendent Tom Stubbs. 

The school caught a glimpse of what’s ahead at a celebratory concert on Monday. Fourth graders started off with the folk ballad “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” strumming in a semi-circle at the front of the small gym. The fifth graders played a version of Jimmy Buffett’s 1979 song “Volcano” they rewrote: “Don’t want to land in no Detroit City / Don’t want to land down in Bo Bo / Don’t want to land in no Fukushima / Don’t want to see my skin aglow.” Outside, the recital became a full-on rock concert complete with lights and microphones, a drum set, guitars and a keyboard as the students rolled through an African drum-accompanied Fleetwood Mac hit, a Temptations classic and a jamming keyboard solo on a Rufus Thomas song. 

“I was shocked to see my 8th grade daughter belting out a solo at the assembly, but I was also proud of her,” said Principal Matt Nagle. “Our parents in the past have enjoyed this sense of pride if their children were lucky enough to perform in David’s music classes, but now all of our parents and students will get to participate.” By the show’s end audience members were begging for more. “Hopefully next year will be on a much grander scale,” Mr. Whitney said just before the final tunes.