I was starving by the time the end bell signaled the beginning of my lunch period. Pausing only to greet people I knew, I made my way to the lunchroom; finally, I would be able to eat. Just as I took a bite of my tuna fish sandwich, I saw my friend April*, who happened to have orchestra lunch that period.
“Stop cutting class, April,” I told her.
“I’m really hungry!” she complained, getting on the lunch line. “I’ll go back after I eat.”
A few weeks later, I decided to visit her in orchestra. Many of my friends had been telling me about how hungry they were because they had music lunch and I wanted to see why. I mean, couldn’t they just eat in class? Soon, orchestra teacher Joseph Tamosaitis walked in and began talking to the class. A few tips for playing and a bit of music theory later, the orchestra began to play.
As I sat listening to Brandenburg’s First Concerto, I began to see why my friends couldn’t just eat in class. If Tamosaitis had been able to identify me right away as an interloper in such a large orchestra, it must be extremely difficult for a group of people to sneak out to go get lunch. I looked around the room and saw everyone playing their instruments, pausing only to turn the page. How did I ever think they would be able to eat with their hands so engaged?
It turns out there is another reason why students can’t just eat in class, a reason that is more significant than mere practicality. “We can’t have students eating in the room; there are instruments in there that cost thousands of dollars. Students can eat lunch any time they want, just not in band or orchestra,” Assistant Principal Music Dr. Raymond Wheeler said. “That’s the unofficial policy,” he said.
Although I enjoyed my time in orchestra, I was famished by the time I left and went to my next class. I finally understood how April and the rest of the students with music lunch feel every day.
Orchestra is not the only music lunch Stuyvesant offers. Students who have chorus or band during their lunch periods are also among those who go hungry. “They have to rush it and eat in like 10 minutes. It’s not enough time to actually enjoy your lunch,” junior Elaine Liu said.
Other students disagree. “I don’t really see what the problem is about having chorus-lunch. It’s not like I’m going to spend the whole period eating,” junior Johnny Szeto said. “I know two or three friends who have chorus-lunch and they seem to finish at a reasonable time.”
Yet from what I could see, music lunch was a very difficult experience. I wondered why anyone would voluntarily choose it. Then, I remembered that many of the students taking music lunch are juniors. This is the year many students feel they have to have a full schedule to show colleges that they are worthy of admission. They would have to give up their lunch period in order to fit the rest of the classes into their schedules.
In other cases, overextending students were not to blame. “For this term, I shouldn’t even have orchestra lunch because I’m only taking nine classes, but the programmers gave me orchestra lunch and 10th free because they said they couldn’t arrange my classes any other way,” junior Jenny Chan said.
Despite allowing students to take an extra class, is music lunch all that useful? “The official policy on music lunch is that we try to avoid giving it,” Dr. Wheeler said. “We only give it when a student has a problem and needs an extra period.” Yet some students who don’t need the extra period are assigned music lunch. Couldn’t programming simply prevent students from taking music lunch? While the ban would be drastic and would create an uproar from the students who need to take it, it would promote a healthier Stuyvesant student body in the long run. With our current policy on music lunch, shall we add a fourth condition to the infamous Stuyvesant quote and say that Stuyvesant students can only get three out of four: good grades, a social life, sleep and lunch?
*Name has been edited for confidentiality purposes