Every year as the course selection process rolls around, Burlingame students struggle to decide which electives to take. There is one course on the list, however, that some students might not know is offered: AP Music Theory.
The last time BHS had an AP Music Theory class was the 2012-13 school year. The class has remained on the course selection list every year since, but not enough students have signed up for there to be a section.
Naturally, this has caused frustration among students who are interested in taking AP Music Theory. Many of these students wish to continue studying music after high school and are missing out on an opportunity to enhance their musical knowledge before college.
“I’m in jazz band and symphonic band, and I wanted to take my music knowledge to another level,” junior Katie Sharp said.
There are a number of reasons why the class attracts so little interest. First and foremost, it is an AP class, meaning the curriculum is largely determined by the material on the AP test. Many students are daunted by the idea of AP Music Theory and would rather just play their instruments than learn about music theory. They also feel that although AP Music Theory is a VPA (Visual and Performing Arts) class, they do not have room in their schedule to take it until senior year.
“I’ve talked to a lot of my underclassmen friends, and they’re always saying, ‘I’ll take it when I’m a senior,’” junior Rory Douglass said. “With that many people putting it off, you never have enough people who are actually willing to take it.”
The exact number of students required for AP Music Theory to be offered is unclear, but most sources agree that at least 20 are needed. Finding those students can be difficult, as most students are more attached to their performance classes than music theory.
“A fair number of students who have an interest in taking the class are themselves in the band program or the choir program here,” said band teacher David Kimura, who would also teach AP Music Theory. “They generally don’t want to give up that elective of performing just to supplement it with the theory.”
The counseling department, which is in charge of creating students’ schedules, works hard to try to offer the class, but because it costs money to run, the SMUHSD will not offer it unless a sufficient number of students are signed up and able to fit it into their schedules.
“We would love to add this course,” counselor Tammy Esrailian said. “We’re closer this year than in past years. I’m really hoping that some more kids come in and sign up for it.”
Last year, only four students signed up for AP Music Theory. This year, however, 19 students (five current sophomores and 14 current juniors) have signed up as of March 7, according to Assistant Principal Valerie Arbizu.
“If this is a class that kids want, they need to talk to their counselors and sign up for it,” Arbizu said. “If we end up not running it, my suggestion would be to go ahead and still study for the [AP] test. Just because we don’t offer a class doesn’t mean you can’t take the test.”
This year, there does seem to be a core group of students who want to take AP Music Theory and are encouraging others to sign up for it so that it might be offered. A strong knowledge of music theory is crucial for aspiring musicians and will make these students better in their musical performances. Many students also want to further the music knowledge that they learn outside of school during the school day.
“It’s convenient to have a class I can take at school that applies to what I’m learning outside of school,” junior Chris Xue said.
In order to increase the chances of AP Music Theory being offered in the 2017-18 school year, the counselors advise that interested students promote the class and encourage their friends to sign up.
“The first thing I’ve been doing is advising the kids who want to take AP Music Theory to please talk with Mr. Kimura, please keep spreading the word about this course, and please keep trying to recruit other kids to take it,” Esrailian said. “I really, really hope that this course runs, so I want to stay positive.”