Imagine a world with no music. Imagine a world with no more movie soundtracks, or top forty radio stations; no more hip hop or rock n’ roll. That would make the world dull and mostly silent. Whether the human race realizes it or not, music is a large part of everyday life. Music plays almost everywhere-the mall, the grocery store, the local diner. All of the music that teenagers listen to in their cars and adults nostalgically bob heads to while working, whether it be rap, country, or metal core, comes from the same background and the same basis-Classical, Baroque, and Romantic period music. All of the techniques that composers from these eras used can be seen in all music! Chord progressions used by J.S. Bach and songs in major and minor keys that were established well before any person today was alive. While it may be true that music today is drastically different than anything heard in medieval times or the romantic Baroque, or classical eras, the idea is still the same-to entertain. “So what?” my readers may be asking themselves. “Why does this matter to me?” That’s an important question, one that needs to be addressed. Music is decaying, although it might not seem like it to someone who listens to the radio all the time, with pop stars spitting out one platinum hit right after another. However, it’s true-music is dying, starting in schools. A majority of the pop stars that are doing world tours now-a-days started in their middle and high school band or choral programs (Cavalier, 2005,1). That is truly amazing and a fantastic ploy to keep music education programs afloat! Maybe not so much. Funding for schools state-wide in Colorado dropped nearly $50 million from the 2011-12 school year to the 2012-13 school year (Cuts, 2011, 1). What programs took the brunt of those cuts? The performing arts. Music programs across the country are being under-funded, under-staffed, and shut down entirely. However, it doesn’t have to be that way! Money is tight in education right now, especially with the $100 billion set aside for education from the ARRA (American Reinvestment and Recovery Act) starting to run dry (Rentner, 2012,1). More money needs to be put towards fine arts programs, and music programs in particular, in middle and high schools across the nation.
Music education has several positive influences in school aged children. Research has proved that children involved in instrumental and choral school music programs have better problem solving skills. Not only this, music education can teach certain social and developmental skills in kids with disabilities (Darrow, 2014, 1). These kids, who may not get the kind of motor skill development taken from instrumental music, find several benefits to being in a school music ensemble. As Darrow said “Various music interventions have been cited frequently as effective in promoting self-esteem.” (2014, 1)-meaning that the students with disabilities have found that their self-esteem has gone up with playing music. Also “Students with disabilities are often passive or content to agree or comply with others” but music education and music educators can help these children become more assertive by having “the students express their desire to play a certain instrument, perform a certain piece, or to play in one group and not another” (Darrow, 2014, 1). As well as helping to develop social skills and raising self-esteem in children with disabilities, I’ve found through personal experience that children in middle and high school music programs are some of the most accepting adolescents. Throughout high school, angst is usually high and most teenagers are worried about physical appearances and who to hang out with to look the most “cool” or “popular”. However, throughout my entire middle and high school career and spending my time with different people and different social groups, it has become apparent to me that the band and choral students are the ones who aren’t worried about such things. That kind of accepting environment is very important to a child’s growth, especially one with disabilities who may not think as fast or understand things as quickly as other students. If music education programs in middle and high schools die out, these students with disabilities may no longer have anywhere to go to develop and improve their learning skills and function.
A misconception about music education that many students and music educators believe is that music can improve standardized test scores. While it’s true that music education and learning how to play an instrument can improve patience and the ability to think through problems in young adults, there is actually no documented correlation between standardized test scores, such as the scholastic aptitude test (SAT), and being involved in a music program (Elpus, 2013, 1). However, this research does not mean that playing in music programs has no benefit to the academics. In fact, music programs in middle and high schools are “imperative to creating a society with creative, disciplined students who can communicate effectively and work together.”(Slaton, 2012, 1). These programs also go about creating more well rounded and educated children as “no education can be complete without the arts and music playing a central role.”(More Funding, 2014, 1) Music education is one of the most important arts in middle and high schools across America. I have been involved in music for eight years now and feel it has made me better at several other subjects that I once struggled in, such as math. Like me, other students can find a correlation between music and the academic subjects that they may be struggling in. The correlation between subjects will better help these students understand the subject, and thus improve performance in that subject area.
Some may argue that there are better areas of public education to spend this money on. The truth is that with these budget cutbacks sweeping the country, there are several areas lacking sufficient funding. Take, for example, a general school lunch in the United States. These school lunches are not necessarily the most nutritious and they almost always cost more money than they should, especially with so many students that have to be on a free or reduced lunch program. However, while this is a very important issue in schools nationwide, the money would be better spent to keep music programs functioning in all middle and high schools. Band and choir are very important to a child’s development, and because of free and reduced lunch programs, it is easier for all children to get a lunch, if nothing else. Some children, however, due to lack of funding, may never get the chance to play in a middle or high school band or sing in choir beyond elementary school music class.
No Child Left Behind, an act signed into law but George Bush in 2002, is designed to raise the overall literacy of the United States (Diorio, 2008,1), but it has also caused a very large rift to open in arts and music programs across the country. The act has intended to improve the literacy in the nation by providing programs and putting measures into place to help students who may be failing or close to failing certain classes. As well as putting these measures into place, the No Child Left Behind Act has put certain standards on the core subjects such as Science, Math, English, and Social Studies. While achieving it’s intended goal in raising the United States literacy, it has put more of an emphasis on academics and thus lessened the emphasis on the arts. As Terrence E. Young stated “No Child Left Behind legislation means increasing academic time for core subjects, which translates into cutting time for arts education.” The emphasis on the academic subjects has both a positive and negative outcome. While the general literacy of the country has gone up, benefits that a student may receive from an emphasis on music programs have been undermined. Thus, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is extremely beneficial to academic programs, but has a negative impact on the arts programs across the United States.
Music education programs can also keep students out of legal trouble. These programs can give children and young adults something to focus on other than doing things that may get them in trouble. For example, instead of spending free time to go out and vandalize, or other illegal acts such as underage smoking or drinking, students have music to focus on by practicing their instruments and music. By doing this, music education can subsequently cause the crime rate in the United States to decrease substantially every year. Not only that, playing an instrument in a middle or high school band program can also give students an output when angry or frustrated, as well as give them a comfortable place to stay and familiar people to be around when in times of stress or unrest. From personal experience, a new family is created when one becomes involved in music. The new ‘family’ may be easier to talk to when something goes wrong in a home life, as well as a safe and accepting place to be when children feel like they have nowhere left to turn. I have gone to my music family several times with concerns or issues that I felt I couldn’t talk to with my biological family, as have other students that I have been in a music program with. The sense of comradery instilled by music programs has helped several students to stay out of trouble in school, and has also helped turn some students’ lives completely around.
Music education is beneficial not only to individual students but to society as a whole. As John Collins states in his article “Music Education is a Viable Investment” (1996) “Without structured music education, we have a generation of students with headphones on, tuning out the world and tuning in as passive listeners, perhaps because they haven’t had the opportunity to learn how to play music with their peers.”(1) The outcome of this inability to listen, in turn, has a negative impact on society in the United States. The disconnect causes the growing generation to be passive listeners instead of active voices, or those who don’t even listen at all, instead tuning out the world as Collins has said. The generation that is growing up like this will more than likely turn the United States into a barely functioning society of people who don’t know how to listen to others. Playing in a middle and high school band also creates an environment where students are required to learn how to work together smoothly. If the musicians cannot work well together, the music will not sound good and therefore will be a failure. Likewise in a business place, if the employees cannot cooperate with one another, the company is likely to fail. Therefore, playing music in a middle and high school band can develop skills that students will use for the rest of their lives.
Many foundations and organizations are advocating for the funding of music education continued through middle and high school, such as the Grammy Foundation. As Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Grammy Foundation, stated, “it has always been my belief that music and music education have a significant impact on a child’s life — academically, socially, culturally and spiritually,” (Mitchell, 2013, 1). The Foundation is going about funding their support by announcing the first ever Music Educators Award. The award recognizes music educators for their hard work and dedication and allows the winner to go to the Grammys. The winner also wins a $10,000 honorarium, and his/her school will receive a grant of the same value and the other nine finalists’ schools will receive a &1,000 grant for their music programs(Mitchell, 2013, 1). The support from the Grammy Foundation shows that large organizations are involved in making sure that America’s students receive all of the schooling that is deserved, including education in the liberal and performing arts areas. Parents and other citizens of the nation should see these acts of support of music education for what it is-a defense of a dying education that impacts the country in a large way. People seem to write off music programs and arts programs, considering these not nearly as important as the core subjects, or even scholastic sports teams. Imagine if a science program or an English program had taken large hits to the budget like music programs have across the country. Parents would be enraged, sending nasty letters and leaving rude telephone messages about the state of their child’s education. So why is it that when the same thing happens to music programs, most parents won’t do anything to help? Is it because music is not seen as important to these parents, or to their children? In many schools, as I’ve witnessed, sports programs are considered to be some of the most important extracurricular activities because these programs teach teamwork and give the students the ability to work together towards a larger goal. However, music does that very same thing. While it is true that musicians may not show a sense of comradery on a court or field, sitting up on that stage with fellow musicians ignites a sense of teamwork and mutual understanding between students. If sports programs and music programs are basically teaching students the same lessons, albeit in very different ways, why is one seen as more important or ‘cooler’ than the other? Why are athletes considered a school’s top priority when musicians are working just as hard towards a goal that’s just as far away? The superiority that sports programs are given over music programs are exactly the reason why music programs are scrambling for funds, and exactly why they should be taken into consideration when looking at a school’s budget.
Music educators have a big responsibility. Teaching music in a middle or high school is not like teaching any other subject because the students who play music together are much closer than students in other, core subjects. As stated before, playing music together creates a sense of family and comradery. This family must be looked after and held together almost solely by the teacher. Music educators have to be not only a teacher, but a role model, a friend, and a guardian as well. Music programs give students a place to make friends, but they also give students a place to find a mentor and a role model to look up to. My band director in high school heard many of my personal problems, let me gossip to him about who was teasing me in high school, and gave me life advice that I will remember as I grow and mature into my own person and music educator. Taking funds away from music education is not just taking away the joy of making music and playing together, but is also taking away a role model and parent like figure, a figure that some students may not have at home.
Playing music is not just a past time. What started out as just a hobby turns into a full commitment, with hours of practicing a day and little to no sleep as a show or concert draws closer and closer. As for myself and several other people I know, it can transform from a small interest into a whole life and career. I am currently going to school for Music Education, which is a career path that I, and many others like me, have chosen. Choosing this path was an easy decision to make and took a split second to finalize. Myself and other did not choose this because of a mild interest in music. Music educators and students have chosen this path because music has had such an impact on certain students’ lives that these students feel that they cannot let music go. These are students who are active voices and active listeners, who can solve problems at what seems like the speed of light, with open arms who accept anyone and everyone. These are adults who are willing to put all of their time into children that aren’t related to them in any way. For whatever reason, all music educators have found some sort of solace in music and intend to share that with students alike. Some may be lost, some may know exactly where they are going, and some may be drifting. Music captures them all. To school athletes, principals, core subject teachers, and non-music parents, it’s just another class-just another easy A to earn. However, to these students who have invested all of their time and much of their money into this program and who fundraise just to be able to afford used instruments from a pawn shop, it is everything. Music is what they wake up in the morning for, and what they look forward to when they fall asleep. Band isn’t just a class or a hobby to pass time. Choosing music is choosing a lifestyle.