The Sounds of Song

Music education returns to Maupin students of all ages

Story and photos by Drew Myron

Marty Hansen leads the return to music education at Maupin schools. Photo by Drew Myron

Marty Hansen hears every squeak and squawk, every croak and crack. He is not daunted.

“It’s terrifying to sing,” the Maupin music teacher says. “When someone says they can’t sing, I say they can’t sing—yet. The power of yet. Every kid can sing.”

After a long absence, the sound of music rings again. Marty has returned to South Wasco County School District to rebuild a music program abandoned for nearly a decade.

Budget cuts, combined with an inability to fill the role, left Maupin students with no music education.

“We had this position posted for years,” says Mark Endsley, principal of South Wasco County School District, a system comprised of 240 students in kindergarten through grade 12. “It’s always hard in rural areas to find music folks. We’re super pleased to have Marty. It’s great for the kids and the community as a whole.”

Maupin is not alone in its struggle to provide arts education. In Oregon, 179 schools—about 1 in 7—offer no music, theater or dance classes, according to a 2019 report from Oregon Community Foundation. Fewer than half of Oregon schools offer at least 1 music course.

“Over the past 30 years, inadequate budgets and pressure to raise test scores and graduation rates have strained many in-school arts programs,” the report notes. “Nonprofits have stepped in to help, but many communities still lack resources to offer high-quality arts experiences to all students.”

Music Director Marty Hansen sings with all ages, from tots to teens.

Many placed blame on No Child Left Behind — a federal law initiated in the early 2000s that brought expansive curriculum changes and emphasized math and reading scores to measure success, while minimizing the benefits—and budgets—of arts education.

With bipartisan support, the mandate was replaced in 2015 with a more equitable and flexible approach.

“It’s important to have different types of academic outlets and opportunities for kids,” says Mark, who emphasizes the value of theater, visual arts and music education.

The benefits are measurable, he says. Numerous studies show that music knowledge correlates to higher math scores, stronger attendance rates, higher GPAs and even better performance on reading tests.

Researchers at Northwestern University note that music and auditory training change the biology of the brain with benefits that can last a lifetime.

From preschool to high school, Marty sings the praises of music education. He says music boosts mood and increases a child’s sensory development, language and listening skills, patience and perseverance.

“Music is important for brain development,” he says during a session of song and dance with preschoolers.

His days are packed as he teaches students of all ages the foundations of music, from reading music to singing and playing instruments, along with stage presence and projection.

At 41, Marty knows his subject. Raised in southwest Montana, he has a degree in music education from Montana State University and a master’s in instrumental conducting from Sam Houston State University. He sings, composes, arranges, and plays saxophone and guitar. He spent years in professional bands that toured the Pacific Northwest and leads worship services at Maupin Community Church.

Marty was South Wasco School’s music teacher from 2006 to 2013. When the role was reduced to a half-time position, he supplemented the loss by adding Dufur to his workload. The situation was not sustainable, so he pursued other opportunities.

Music education returns to South Wasco schools as youngsters sing at their first concert in 2022.

With tenacity, he has spent years building school music programs in rural areas. In Montana, he worked as a band teacher, growing the program from 30 to 130 students. In Port Orford on the remote Oregon Coast, he boosted the school’s band and music programs.

Even with more funding for the arts, many rural schools face challenges filling jobs due to a lack of affordable housing. In tourist or destination areas, such as Maupin, housing options are limited and often beyond the budget of new teachers.

In September 2022, nine years after leaving Maupin, Marty returned. He and his wife, Kari, and daughter, Raeliegh, 12, live near Pine Hollow.

“It feels like home,” Marty says. “It feels good to be back. And I still get to be a river rat, going fishing and rafting. It feels like there’s more community involvement here now, more energy. There’s always been an interest in the arts, but after years of not having it, it feels like people really want it.”

School District Superintendent Ryan Wraught agrees.

“Marty has been an instant success with the students, who have been longing to have music back in the school,” he says. “It is great to see students back in music class.”

Music has shaped Marty’s life, and he wants to share the impact.

“It’s important for kids to feel success and be a part of a community or team,” he says. “Music is one vehicle for that. In just a few months, I’ve seen kids discover something in themselves. It’s so important that they feel validated and a part of something.”

Emma Hovis, 8, feels the magic of music. When the Maupin Elementary School choir gathered on stage for their first concert, she could not stop smiling.

“I love it,” she says. “I like how we all sing together.” Her enthusiasm is music to Marty.

“I hope they can learn how to serve the community through music and connect with others,” he says. “Mostly, I just want the kids to get excited about music.”