Q: [School-Aged] I’ve heard this is ‘Music in Our Schools’ month, which seems like a good thing. But with all the academic obligations and common core standards that have to be met in school, is there really any value to adding music into the mix?
A: I can point to countless volumes of research that substantiate the value of musical training in a child’s education —improved test scores, mastery of memorization and perseverance, encouragement of creative thinking, teamwork and spatial intelligence, and advanced development of language and reasoning. These skills help our students become successful in virtually all of their core academic classes.
I find myself recalling a powerful blog by Peter Greene, a high school English teacher and arts advocate from Pennsylvania. Although he would undoubtedly agree with the points above that defend the need for music in our schools, he approaches support for music education in a different way. Instead of dwelling upon how and why music affects other school subjects, test scores, and specific areas within Common Core, Mr. Greene suggests that we also consider music for the sake of music. For starters, it is a universal language that can overcome cultural barriers and unify communities. “Music is everywhere you go, in everything you watch. Would you want to live in a world without music? Then why would you want to have a school without music?” He also contends that “listening to music is profoundly human. It lets us touch and understand some of our most complicated feelings. It helps us know who we are, what we want, how to be ourselves in the world.” This is not likely something that is addressed in an academic class, and yet it is of remarkable value for a young person’s development.
On a macro level, “music programs give back to communities forever. Your community band, your church choir, your local theatre — all those groups that enrich the cultural life of your community are the result of school music programs.” So yes, we need to offer music in our schools — and all of us must be fierce advocates for the arts in our communities. “A school without music is less whole, less human, less valuable, less complete.”
Teren Shaffer is the Dean of Arts Conservatories and the Conductor of the Frederick Fennell Wind Ensemble at Orange County School of the Arts. He has worked in music education for over 10 years and has been praised as an “Outstanding Arts Educator” by the Orange County Department of Education.