Interview with Gregory McCallum [Sarah Shen Extra]



Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:00 - Introduction

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Shen: To begin, could you introduce yourself, and tell me a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you got into teaching at Richmond Community High School?
McCallum: My name is Gregory McCallum, I am a former teacher at Virginia Union University, I taught there from 1986 to 1999 and then I came to Richmond Community in ’99. I’ve been there ever since. Is that what you asked me?
S: Yeah and what do you teach? I know I got your information from the vice principal or principal and she said that you were the music director, but does that involve teaching choir, orchestra, band, or what else?
M: Teach band and orchestra. And that encompasses wind ensemble, jazz band, and orchestra.
S: Wow. So wind ensemble, jazz band, orchestra. That’s a lot
M: Yep.

Segment Synopsis: McCallum introduces himself, his musical background, and his past and current teaching experience.

Keywords: Band; Jazz band; Music director; Orchestra; Richmond Community High School; Virginia Union University

Subjects: Current job; Music background; Teaching experience

00:01:09 - Music Students at Richmond Community High School

Play segment

Partial Transcript: S: So what kind of students are involved in the music programs at Richmond Community High School? Like what are the demographics?
M: Girls to guys? Or black to white?
S: Both. Both would be really helpful.
M: Girls to guys? I probably would have…I would say it’s almost fifty-fifty this year. The school is predominantly black, so I have more black students than white. Even in the band and orchestra also, it would typically be the reverse.
S: In orchestra, it is the reverse?
M: I said typically in my orchestra it would be reverse, more white students than black students.
S: Ah. Just in general, but in Richmond community there are more black students than white students.
M: Right because there are more blacks at the school.
S: Do you think these – uh, what kind of an impact does doing music have on the students in the school?
M: I think there’s a really good impact on them because, uhm, they see that it’s not just something to do while you’re here, but it’s something I can make a career out of. I have four students who applied and got accepted to Berklee College of Music, one into Oberlin college of music, and other students in other schools’ music departments like VCU, Christopher Newport…
S: That’s really good.
M: Yep.
S: Do you think these students take private lessons outside of school or have they relied on the public school music training system?
M: The majority of them have relied on public school training. I’ve had very few that have had outside lessons.
S: Mhm. So, the ones that have gone on to Oberlin and these conservatory universities, have pretty much relied on their public school training?
M: Mhm.
S: That’s interesting because a lot of the other teachers I’ve talked to in RPS don’t seem to have these kinds of students. So what do you think makes – why do you think Richmond Community High School has these students in particular?
M: One of the things that are unique about Richmond Community High is that we pick our students from the beginning. There’s an application process to get into Richmond Community High so it’s not fair to compare Richmond Community with the other comprehensive highs schools because they get whoever comes along. Whereas we are going for those students who have shown the most promise or could have the most promise if they are placed in the correct environment.

Segment Synopsis: McCallum talks about the demographic breakdown of the music program at RCHS. He discusses how some of his students go on to conservatory-like universities, and what sets RCHS students apart from other RPS students.

Keywords: Application; Band; Conservatory; Demographic; Orchestra; Public School; Students; Training

Subjects: Future careers in music; Public school music training; Student demographics; Why RCHS is unique

00:04:21 - History of Music at Richmond Community High School

Play segment

Partial Transcript: S: What is the history of the music program at Richmond Community High School? Has it always been this strong?
M: Oh, no. When I was in Richmond Community there were only three kids in the instrumental program.
S: Oh. So why has this changed over time?
M: By being interested in their future and wanting to have a program. Finding students that are willing to buy into the idea that we can do it, that has made us grow a lot. Because now, I probably have, out of a 250 member school, I have about 41, 43 something 44, 45 students from the school that are instrumental music students.

Segment Synopsis: McCallum briefly summarizes the history of music programs at RCHS and how they have changed over time.

Keywords: Change; History; Instrumental program; RCHS

Subjects: Change in the program over time; History of RCHS music programs

00:05:15 - Activities and Funding Part One

Play segment

Partial Transcript: S: Mhm. So what kind of activities are the music ensembles or the music program students involved in outside of Richmond Community’s campus?
M: The students themselves, one plays with the youth symphony. The ensembles, the jazz ensembles do a lot – whether it’s a big group that plays at, we do a concert at Finished Eight or Dominion Arts Center every year.
S: That’s big.
M: In the spring at Rhythm Hall. I’m taking thirteen students to a college at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic on Monday, we do that every year. That’s really gone in favor with the students because they get to see what students are doing across the nation and basically across the world what people are doing with music. And that keeps that interest going. They realize that it’s bigger than what I’m doing right here in little old Richmond, Virginia or Henrico County or Chesterfield or Hanover. It’s a whole lot going on and they really get to see it.
S: So, how are these activities funded? Because I imagine it’s very expensive going out of the state with a lot of students.
M: Well, we plan it way back in the spring and for the most part, parents pay for it. We have a non-profit organization associated with Richmond Community High School and they fund registration for each student and a dinner and sometimes ice skating, something like that, but the kids pay for their own hotel, they pay for the train ride up and back.
S: So is this non-profit sort of like a music boosters organization or…?
M: No, it’s an advisory board for Richmond Community High School.
S: Wow, so Richmond Community High School has their own board?
M: Their own advisory board, right.
S: What does this consist of?
M: Uh, it’s roughly about thirteen members I believe and they do – well one of the main things is fundraising for the school. Uhm, we have a person that works on getting grants and items like that.
S: Do you feel like you have a clear understanding of the funding structure that goes – not like the parent funding, but sort of like the school district funding or your own board’s funding – do you feel like you have a clear understanding of the funding structure?
M: I would say no, and I would say it’s because I don’t get into that. I just do what I am there to do. If it effects me, then I make efforts to understand why it may effect me negatively or positively. But for the most part, I just go in and teach. I was telling someone the other day, I don’t get involved in those politics because if I did so, it would take away from the teaching that I am doing.
S: Yeah. But for the activities, do you feel like there are enough funds to do whatever you want to do?
M: Oh yes.

Segment Synopsis: McCallum discusses what kind of activities music students are involved in and how these activities are funded. Main funding sources include the parents and the RCHS advisory board.

Keywords: Activities; Advisory board; Concerts; Funding; NPO; Performances; Traveling

Subjects: Funding sources; Funding structure; Music program activities; Sufficient funding

00:08:48 - Improvement Areas

Play segment

Partial Transcript: S: Yes. Uh, so what are your – what are some of the improvements that you think can be made to the music programs in general?
M: This is for RPS or for Richmond Community High School?
S: It would be helpful to hear both of those perspectives.
M: Well it’s hard for me to say as far as RPS because I only see, for the most part, my program. And I’m once again in that unique situation where my troubles won’t be the same as Mr. Custles at TJ or Mr. Reynolds over at John Marshall, we may have different problems. One of the things that I got through is, I don’t know – when we go through the audition, kind of audition process, screening process to get into Richmond Community High School, I don’t know that this number one trumpet player from middle school is coming to me. He or she may not be coming to me. Whereas the feeder situation in Richmond Public Schools, the director at Thomas Jefferson may know I’m getting X amount of students from Binford, I’m getting X amount of students from Albert Hill. John Marshall knows I’m getting X amount of students that I taught from Henderson Middle, they’re coming next door next year. I don’t know where my students are going to come from until we actually get them because they can apply from every middle school.
S: Right. And that’s one of the issues you have that uh, could be improved on in Richmond Community?
M: No, I don’t think it can really be improved but it’s just that. Because I typically like that challenge like I don’t know what I get until I get it and it’s like okay, then I found the work.
S: Do you think that the students who come to Richmond Community High School are an accurate representation of students in RPS in general? Or..
M: Yes. Because before coming to Richmond Community I did teach at John F. Kennedy which is now Armstrong. And I can tell you that the only difference I saw between the kids, was that I had good students at Kennedy and I have good students at Community. The students that I have at Community have more chances and opportunities than the students that I had a John F. Kennedy High School because of the extra enrichment opportunities that go on at RCHS.
S: So you don’t think – the main difference isn’t about the student’s drive, or talent, or whatever, it’s mainly the opportunities available to the students at each school?
M: Yes.
S: What is the income gap like at Richmond Community High School? Do you feel like the students come from similar backgrounds or different backgrounds? Is there a disparity anywhere?
M: I’m sure there is but I’m not privy to that. You can tell that some students have it a little better than others. But just based on whether [inaudible] where they come from. I don’t see where it makes a big difference at Community at all.

Segment Synopsis: McCallum discusses a few problem areas and elaborates further on RCHS opportunities versus opportunities available at comprehensive high schools.

Keywords: Backgrounds; Improvements; Music; Opportunities; Programs; Talent; Uncertainty

Subjects: Improvement areas to the program; Opportunity availability; Uncertainty of students coming in

00:12:31 - Hopes for the Future: Numbers

Play segment

Partial Transcript: S: Okay. So what are your hopes for the music program at Richmond Community in the future?
M: To build the string program, to get more string players.
S: What is the lack – it’s just not strong right now? Or..
M: The players I have are strong, but it’s only about eight kids.
S: So the numbers aren’t there.
M: Just the numbers larger, right. When you look at the instrumental program that’s forty percent of the school, I mean twenty percent of the school’s population, that’s not bad.
S: Why do you think you have a lack of orchestra students?
M: It’s the way we pick – remember we go back to how students come to Richmond community. If I’m a strings player and I audition for a specialty – if I want to go to a specialty school, my first choice would not be Community, my first choice would be Appomattox Regional Governor’s School.
S: Yeah. Maggie Walker?
M: No, Appomattox in Petersburg.
S: Appomattox? Oh! The arts governor’s school.
M: Mhm. So I’m gonna lose a strings player from there and I understand why. They’re arts focused whereas Richmond Community is not arts based or arts focused. I think we have a decent instrumental music program, but if the students have the opportunity to go somewhere where it’s music versed, I wouldn’t even pressure them to apply and go.
S: Right. What about your jazz band numbers? Why is it that you don’t feel like there are a lack of members in your jazz band then?
M: Because most years we have typically a full complemental saxes which is five, three trombones, three or four trumpets, rhythm section and we’ve been – in all city jazz band – we’ve been about eighty percent of the all city jazz band every year for the last four years.
S: You’ve been about eighty percent of the all city jazz band?
M: Yeah, personnel wise.
S: For the all city programs, do they have a limit on how many students you can send or is this as much as you want?
M: It depends on which group it is because there is a concert band and an orchestra, or a jazz band. One of the things – by not having marching band, I do jazz all year long. So my kids got more prepared going right into performing – we started back in august performing out in the public and we’ll be performing all year long. So if I’m a kid and I’ve been playing in marching band all fall and someone says we want to do jazz band right now, they may or may not be ready to do it. So if a performance comes up, someone’s gotta take it so we typically do it.

Segment Synopsis: McCallum discusses his hopes for the music program in the future. The strings program is small so he hopes to expand, but there are underlying reasons for the lack of students present.

Keywords: Appomattox Governor's School; Jazz band; Number of students; Orchestra; Personnel

Subjects: Amount of students in orchestra compared to jazz band; What accounts for number differences?

00:15:59 - Funding Part Two

Play segment

Partial Transcript: S: Right. Going back to the funding structure, what are the main funding sources for Richmond Community High School music program? Like you mentioned the, sort of board of trustees almost, like the thirteen people group that manage fundraising, what else is there? And also the parents. Is there any other factor?
M: I mean the school has a budget so anything I would need I would order from the school.
S: But you don’t know how much of the money that you get comes out from either the school district, which is funding the school, or how much money you get from Richmond Community’s own, sort of fundraising board?
M: Now, I don’t get a lot either from the fundraising board, that is, the advisory board. If I want a teacher mini grant I can request a mini grant and typically they are approved. A couple of years ago I got all the instruments that I need, those were given to me from downtown. Central office gave me money to buy instruments so that wasn’t something that had to come through the school. The textbooks for AP Music Theory, that’s from central office. So I never had a problem getting what I need just about asking my principal or going to my music supervisor.
S: Well, I think those are all of the questions I have. Thank you so much for interviewing, again.

Segment Synopsis: In closing, McCallum further elaborates on the funding structure at RCHS. He feels that there is enough funding as long as he goes out of his way to apply for mini-grants.

Keywords: Budget; Funding factors; Funding sources; Funding structure; Teacher grant

Subjects: Further clarification on funding structure; Sufficient school budget; Teacher mini-grant requests