Musician's Corner

Is Music Necessary, Are School Music Programs Important?

(PART 1)

Let’s begin by asking as part of a regular curriculum in school, is music training really necessary especially when only a small fraction of a student body is populated by students interested in pursuing music as a career in one form or another. Even further in higher learning facilities, given what it costs these days, is it worth sending a child to college to study music in hopes of pursuing a career in music when the opportunities of earning a decent living in music are so few? Interesting questions that I’m sure most of you will have an opinion and I hope will share with us.

When I was a freshman in college at the San Francisco Conservatory Of Music, it was a requirement to enroll in a semester of Psychology. Now most of us didn’t understand why this was required at a music school but since it was, we enrolled and tolerated it.

The interesting thing is the teacher of the class was quite astute by stating on the very first day that he couldn’t teach us anything about Psychology but would by the end of the class help us to better understand ourselves and how we relate to those around us. Further, he said we must prepare ourselves to answer the question “why is music important?” He said, the day will come when we will have answer that question in one way or another and we must be able to articulate the reasons intellectually! This central question has long tentacles and reaches far and wide, even down to music classes in primary schools. Musicians must be able to answer why keeping music in schools is so important and must prepare to defend those reasons now!

Needless to say back in those days most of us felt that this was hyperbole and a situation that would never happen. Well, I hate to say it but that day has arrived and in fact has been here for sometime! Funding for music programs in school has in many cases been eliminated or drastically reduced and in someway all music programs are feeling the pinch. In general Art programs are the last to be added and the first to be cut - too many prominent decision makers believe that music is merely an “elective” and as such is not as necessary as reading, writing, arithmetic or science. Oddly enough searching through history, one finds the first things most conquerors did after subduing an adversary was to confiscate the art of a society. Art has always been considered the highest accomplishment and representation of a society and therefore should be held in that high esteem from the very beginning – in school! But there in lie’s the rub, funding art in schools and specifically for this article - Music Programs.

During my formative years I can think of nothing more important and valuable than the music classes I enrolled in. Of course that was a time before the Internet where one can experience more in one hour than I might have possibly in years. I did study piano privately but the classes I enrolled in both Elementary and High School served as solid day by day re-enforcement of my overall musical development. There is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t have developed as quickly or as well without the training I received in school, and I must affirm that it was a public school.

Now, in terms of learning the nuts and bolts of music, one on one live teacher-student training is most desirable. The training one receives in school just adds to the desirable end result. However, what if one wants to learn to improvise, in that case are live teachers still important? Personally I learned to improvise by copying phrases I heard on various recordings by my favorite artists, ear training if you will. Now with the Internet and the many instructional aids available on DVD, etc. that’s about as close as you can get to a live teacher, so it’s obvious that Instructional DVD’s and Internet classes are very efficient learning tools in a modern fast paced society. However, even so, there’s nothing better than studying with a live teacher if possible. I learned a lot from copying records but the information I learned from live instruction (many times in non classroom situations and jam sessions) was in many ways more valuable. In other words, the key factor here is there was someone else in the room with me sharing ideas and “teaching” either by speaking or by performance. One can learn much studying alone, but in the end it’s the associations and sharing of ideas (along with practice) that take a musician to the next level, that’s where the spark and inspiration come from. Sitting alone in front of a computer can give a student access to a world of knowledge, but there will always be that missing element that only comes from live interaction. I also believe this one musician band movement has affected the vibe of music heard today for the worse. Don’t get me wrong, I love the ability to be an entire orchestra and become “every musician”, but I know the difference growing up and interacting with other musicians during my formative years. For many of these kids, the single musician band is all they know and that is a tragedy for them and for music.

Speaking of playing and leaning from playing with other musicians, for me, that includes playing in the Marching Band. I had to learn to play trombone while marching in step with everyone else, follow directions, make the right moves and remember where I was supposed to be on the field at any given time and that includes marching in the rain in mud slogged shoes – man, what an experience! A musician should just study music - it doesn’t have to be in their chosen genre, in the end it all relates and is foundation building.

Like sports and other “extra curricular” after school activities, all these things help build character and the understanding that people working together for a common goal is an important part of moving through life. IS MUSIC NECESSARY? I say with no hesitation ABSOLUTELY YES! Is Music as important as the other “sciences?” ABSOLUTELY YES! It is the other side of the brain and both sides need to be exercised and utilized. Life is about balance and MUSIC helps create that balance and release that human beings need in their lives. Have you ever watched a baby begin to move about when music is playing? It’s organic, it’s spiritual, music affects humans almost as if by osmosis. That’s what music has that the other “sciences” do not and that’s exactly why it’s so important – I equate the left and right brain scenario to the Ying and Yang theory. On a more basic level it’s almost as if there is a gene that when excited by music manifests itself in seemingly involuntary movement. So, music training in school where one plays or sings with others helps build life skills even if one doesn’t continue in the field.

Specifically school music programs help one learn various disciplines that stay with a child for the rest of their lives. A strong music program gives children attainable goals, something to look forward to, challenges that keep their minds occupied with positive creative thought. There are enough negative distractions in the world and a little music training can go a long way to shaping and guiding a child’s future in a positive direction. Learning to create is the key and a very positive force for a young mind. In the end musicians are an extended family that rely and count on each other not only in playing together but in social circumstances as well – besides that – it’s just plain fun to play music.

In closing, each of us must decide for ourselves the reasons that school music programs are important and necessary. It’s obvious to me that early school music programs lay the foundation for better music and musicians in the future. But along with that thought process must come a call to action, an unabashed zeal to speak that truth when and where necessary. WE MUST KEEP MUSIC IN THE SCHOOLS!

I urge all of you to vote that way, to get involved with your local schools and let them know that you appreciate the music training the kids receive. I urge you to continue to support live music programs in your local area in order to keep the spirit of music alive and give the students a real shot in the arm to keep working at it.


Tell me what you think?

(PART 2) of “Is Music Necessary, Are School Music Programs Important?” I will deal with the ODDS of making a living in music. While it’s good to discuss the reasons for keeping music in schools, the flip side of that equation is what are the odds of a music student being able to earn a living in music today? This is a complicated subject that I plan to deal with head on! That’s next time.