Packed crowd fights Wausau religious-music rules

Oct 13, 2013 by

Christian-Music-bandWAUSAU — Hundreds of students, parents and community members packed a Wausau school auditorium Thursday night, many begging the School Board to reverse administrative decisions to limit religious music in winter concerts.

The Wausau School Board called the special meeting amid an uproar over new limits placed on holiday programs, particularly those involving an elite choir group at Wausau West High School called the Master Singers.

Even before dozens of residents stood to speak, the board voted to put the decision about whether to schedule winter concerts back in the hands of school principals. Wausau elementary schools had canceled holiday concerts, and the school district administration said the decision was related to the need for state-test preparations — not to avoid issues with religious songs.

Board members also backed away from administrative efforts to update the district’s rules on the performance of sacred music, and voted to revert to an older policy in which principals reviewed song lists of performances. The School Board also voted to forge out a new policy in the next year, with input from the community.

For many in the crowd, the limits placed on Master Singers choir director Phil Buch were an attack on Christianity and people of faith. “I think it’s time to take a stand for the majority,” said Bruce Trueblood of Wausau.

D.C. Everest Area School District music teacher Julie Burgess said that sacred music is an integral part of choral history. “Excluding sacred music would mean that students would get an incomplete education,” she said.

A few speakers pointed out the need for balance. Dan Danson, the rabbi of the Mount Sinai Synagogue in Wausau, said it can be uncomfortable for Jewish students to perform predominantly Christian music.

The controversy erupted last week when Buch put the choir group on hiatus. Buch said he made the decision after a meeting with a new musical review committee and the district’s legal counsel. He said he was told Master Singers would have to perform five secular songs to every religious song the group performed, or not perform any religious music at all. Those options were unacceptable for a group that sings at Christmas programs in nursing homes, for service clubs or other venues, Buch said.

Buch met with Superintendent Kathleen Williams on Wednesday and the two began to work out a compromise that is still being hammered out. But the Master Singers will resume practicing on Monday.

Speakers on Thursday night targeted much of their anger toward Williams, who said the administrators never intended to ban sacred Christian music entirely, nor did it impose a ratio.

The Master Singers perform at about a dozen community venues over the holidays, singing Christmas carols that the committee decided were too close to a public school endorsing religion in violation of the Constitution. The popular group also typically performs during the Wausau West winter concert.

via Packed crowd fights Wausau religious-music rules (video added) | Wausau Daily Herald | wausaudailyherald.com.

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