The annual Vancouver School Board Night of Band festival is usually the big event elementary school children and their parents look forward to, but this week's concert will be a fraction of its normal size.

Due to severe budget cuts to band and string programs at elementary schools, less than half of the usual schools will participate in the event on Thursday.

"If you can imagine a full-sized high school gym with about 10-12 elementary bands and one secondary guest band, and the parents all up in the rafters," said Michael Dirk, a teacher and chair of the Vancouver School Music Teachers' Association.

"We needed typically three nights to accommodate, and they were marathons to get through the 12 ensembles."

But this year there will only be one night with about 350 kids performing the pieces they've practiced all year.

Nearly 170 teachers and support staff were laid off last year as part of the board's efforts to reduce a $24-million budget shortfall.

No music teachers

"Over the years, our itinerant band program actually shrunk where the band teachers would (teach at) six schools. Last year it went up to nine, and then we were cut," said Peggy Bochun, the Vancouver School Board's fine arts coordinator.

"Now these schools don't have band programs so they can't offer up a band to play (in the festival)."

Dirk defends the purpose of band, string and other musical programming in schools, saying the regular curriculum subjects such as chemistry, physics, math and biology are all covered in learning to play an instrument.

"All the music that we study, we don't just play notes that are on a page, we take in the ethos of it all; why was it written, when was it written, what was the political time," he told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"Music is the only class that will bring this all together in such incredible harmony, pun intended."

Hopes for future funding from province

With the Supreme Court order to restore class size and composition to 2002 levels by allocating $330 million in funding, Dirk hopes whoever is elected in the May 9 provincial election will deliver funding for education and help bring music back into the classroom.

"I can't think of any politician who wouldn't want to invest in education and the arts and culture so it's a matter of hopefully finding one that will actually follow through," he said.

The ministry of education declined comment, saying they could not respond until after the provincial election.

The Night of Band festival will be held on Thursday, May 11.

With files from the CBC's On The Coast


To hear the full interview listen to audio below: