Music - The Love, The Power, The Necessity

                                                                                                       

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                                                                                                                  * The Love *

I have no doubt that if you are reading this that you LOVE music and you want to bestow the joy and love of music to your child(ren).   I’ve Paused lately to think about the power of music -- something that many take for granted & as you’ll see toward the end of this newsletter could potentially be at risk in our schools.  This is long but I think it's worth the read.  

To me, music is a basic need -- it’s a necessity as much as breathing, eating and sleeping.  Ok, ok, I know, I may be exaggerating just a little here.  As a music teacher and a performer I’m a tad biased.  BUT really it’s not so far fetched when you try to imagine a world without music, right?  Think about how big a role music plays in your daily life.  Driving around in your car with your music playing (or your kids music playing:), watching tv shows or a movie,  blasting music to get you through your workout, soft music playing in the background at a cafe or a romantic restaurant (NOT very romantic without music).  It's there even when you are put on hold on a telephone call perhaps to calm your nerves while you patiently wait for your questions to be answered.  And if you're like me, you might often have a song stuck in your head all day.  It's played at the beginning of every ball game & every memorial.... the list goes on & on.  

A while back I watched the *silent* movie “The Artist” and I realized that I couldn’t have watched this silent movie with the sound turned down (I know that sounds funny), but the music brings the movie to life, without music it wouldn’t have had the same impact.

 

                                                                                                                  * The Power *

We know that music is such a powerful thing & it is a universal language.  We are all moved, even when listening to music in another language, in fact it can be even more romantic in another language. 

Music can move a person to tears of joy & sadness.  It can make you want to get up and dance, sing/hum along.  It can lift a bad mood instantly.  It can help you run that extra mile, bring you to your feet for a standing ovation, & bring you to tears while watching a sad movie -- I’m sure you’ve noticed how the tears don’t actually fall until the first notes of music are heard when your heart strings finally give in. 

Some alzheimer's & dementia patients who often don’t communicate with those around them can be stirred to speak coherently when their favorite music is played, recalling a long distant memory --  but they will shut down again when the music stops.  They can often sing along to the song, and those who can be irritated easily due to dementia, can be calmed when music is played.  Did you know that people who have speech impediments such as stuttering when speaking, can sing without a stutter & singing can help with speech development?   I’m not sure that there is anything else in this world that can spur all these emotions & have such positive effects.

We also know the enormous benefits it can bring on an educational level, improving math, science, cognitive, language skills & particularly when taken in an early childhood music class, can also improve physical, emotional and social skills as well as the actual skill of music making. We know this first hand because there have been numerous studies and research done extensively on this topic, including one in recent years done in *at risk* schools in Bridgeport, CT & in NJ in the past few years, whereby Music Together® was the chosen musical component of children taking the “arts” and comparing them to those in the same schools who did not.  There were significant higher scores in the above mentioned skill areas documented for those who took the arts.  So here’s where my concern is:
 

                                                                                                               * The Necessity *

In a world where our children are “plugged in” more and more each day, and starting earlier and earlier on iphones, ipads, game boys etc -- it seems that they come out of the womb ready to use all these gadgets.  And the focus in schools is geared towards electronics and have particular focus on math, science and language.  Our youngsters are living in a world that is becoming more and more square, when we desperately want them to be more “well rounded” including a strong appreciation for the arts and good social skills.  Have you heard that in some schools recess is gone ? This is happening more so in middle & high school but I’ve heard some people mention that it is happening in elementary school now in some places all to focus on school work.

Kids need to play, they need to run around at lunch time, play with their friends, laugh and play ball.   My nephew told me last week that he has *silent lunches* in his school and he has no time to “let loose at school”.   I was floored by that.  Don’t they know that children learn best through play.  Social skills & using their imagination are at risk here when you start to chip away these important things from their lives. 

Which of course brings me to the arts.  When I hear the subject come up now and again, that schools are talking about taking away  music and art, it seems so backward.   Considering the fact that music in particular is a powerful force, and we have proof from significant research that The Arts help to improve all the other skills.  Not to mention the fact that these very subjects may be where a child will particularly excel and strive to one day make a career out of it.  My son is a perfect example of this.  He is now applying to colleges to study musical theater, and yet if he had not experienced the wealth of theater and music that he was fortunate enough to have experienced through the years in school, he would not know that this is something that he would become extremely passionate about, and is his dream to make a career out of it.

Some of my teachers, including myself have been teaching music in preschools over the past few years, where I witnessed first hand children who had not had a chance  to *make music* yet (some aged 3 and above). Their preschool class was the first time they were *singing* “twinkle twinkle” for example.  I’m sure they had heard the song before, but they had not yet sung that song yet.  After many weeks of being in their classroom they began to thrive musically, and looked forward to the class each week.  Unfortunately some of these schools have not been able to continue the music program and so these children do not have music in their classrooms anymore.  Many of these children may not have been fortunate enough to have gone to an early childhood music program like all of you have, who take Music Together classes, or even hear their parents singing at home. 

What happens if the arts are pulled away from their future elementary, middle and high schools?  They may never have the opportunity to be exposed on a hearty basis to a good dose of music *making* or the arts in general, allowing them discover that this is something they want to pursue as a career.  It is therefore our great responsibility to be sure to introduce music making at a young age and that music and the arts thrive in our lives & our communities so that it can continue to be passed on for generations.  I emphasize *music making* here.. as there's a big difference in consuming music, versus "making" it.  The enjoyment of listening to music is wonderful, but *making music" is where all the benefits are truly experienced.
 
In a nut shell the arts are a true necessity.  Without it, we would live in a silent, colorless, square world.   Fight for it to stay in our schools.  Make time for it in your lives, be it private lessons or simply singing and dancing at home.  Who knows, your child may be a future Beethoven, John Lennon, Rembrandt or van Gough, but above all remember the great joy that it brings to everyone's lives.

 

Liz McNicholl 1.8.2013