Dan Ainspan, Contributing Writer
On Wednesday, October 9, the SUNY Oneonta Funk Band played its second performance of the semester, this time at the Black Oak Tavern. However, technically, the ensemble wasn’t supposed to exist. As of last spring, the Funk Band was among the many performing ensembles cut from the school’s registrar; meaning students couldn’t sign into them and receive credit for the upcoming year. Yet, they’re still around, as the band brought a large crowd of enthusiastic college kids and local residents down to the Oak.
News of the cuts did not go over well with students. Almost immediately, a digital petition against the action was created, and flocks of angry letters were sent to college officials. Popular ensembles were cut such as the Funk Band, Zappa Band, Jazz Octet, R&B Band, Guitar Orchestra, Jazz Improvisation and others. Most of these ensembles had been around for years and are staples of the Music Industry program here at the college.
I recently sat down with senior Jimmy Johnston, President of the Student Association and Music Industry Major, to find out more on why these cuts were made. “The music department wasn’t targeted directly,” said Johnston. “This happens to every department at the end of every semester. The Music Industry major has declined in numbers over the past few years, and many of the ensembles were under-enrolled. With the economy the way it is and budgets being tight, it doesn’t make sense for the college to fund a course that is only filling up halfway.”
With so many diverse programs, the college has to carefully allocate funds across departments with respect to each department’s potential growth or decline. What does this mean for music majors? In May, Jimmy drove down to meet with the Dean in an attempt to resolve the issue. As a result, some of the ensembles were reinstated, but there is still work to be done. “I think if we are able to show a lot of interest in some of the ensembles, we may be able to get some of them reinstated. I would like to work on the issue this semester by meeting with the interim Dean and possibly bringing a resolution to senate to support the ensembles,” said Johnston.
Along with the Funk Band, other ensembles including the Zappa Band and Jazz Octet have continued as normal with performances planned for the semester. Junior and Music Industry major Frank Cicciarello doesn’t believe the cuts mean much for students wishing to perform. “I know the Jazz Octet, and the Zappa and Funk Bands, which I’m both in, knew that we couldn’t just stop playing,” said Cicciarello. “These three bands are staples in the SUNY Oneonta music scene and even the town of Oneonta. If you have ever been to Funk Night at the Black Oak, you know what I’m talking about.” Cicciarello echoes the resiliency of the many musicians across campus. Just because the cuts were made, the bands don’t have to stop performing. Students, along with the help and guidance from professors, have gathered on their own time to keep these bands alive.
SUNY Oneonta professor and head of the Funk Band Jeremy Wall said of the cuts, “Like everyone else I was shocked last spring when I heard about the ensembles being cancelled. I think what is most discouraging is that according to interviews and surveys that we’ve done with incoming and outgoing students in our department, probably the number one aspect of our department that has brought people here is the variety of ensembles that we offer.”
Although the cuts were controversial and very disappointing to not only students, but to faculty and alumni as well, the positive attitude and perseverance of both groups have helped keep the department active. Time will tell to see if popular ensembles get reinstated for future semesters, but as Professor Wall put it, “Let’s keep the funk alive, the funk will never die.”