By Hussain Bokhari ‘15
Music education has increasingly received recognition for its inventory of benefits and its creative outlook on learning, but it seems those with the power to act are an exception.
Music has existed longer than recorded history and can be observed in all cultures. With its undeniable link to human emotion, its sense of storytelling, and its ability to be perceived differently, it gives us a unique connection to our past and an opportunity to illustrate feelings. Whether it’s the banging of a drum, judder of a voice, wind of a tube or strike of a bow, music is a natural art which frees the mind and is an incredible medium of expression. For these reasons and more, The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) is endorsing re-investment in arts education throughout the country, with emphasis on music education. To tackle problems like a narrowed curriculum and the lack of ingenuity in learning, the PCAH encourages an arts approach to training the next generations of America. The PCAH also looks forward to reforming the way music classes are taught, in order to keep those who might not be world-class players engaged.
“I think most music classes should be reformed to be based more on effort instead of talent,” said Winston Cheong ’15. “If more emphasis is placed on work put in and less on grades, it would be a much more valuable learning experience.”
One of the biggest obstacles in the way of music education is resources. Public schools have only a limited budget with certain programs on the cut-off list in the case that money falls short, music being one of them. From stocking instruments to finding and paying music teachers who already outnumber schools, it might seem logical to eliminate an indirect source of learning instead of limiting courses like Math or English. After all, with so much emphasis on standardized tests and “common” curriculums, it might not make sense to throw funding towards what some consider just a hobby or interest.
Ms. Melissa Williams, who replaced Mr. Knutsen as Band Director in September of this year, unfortunately had to experience this reality first hand. “In my case, I was working at a small high school in the South Bronx and due to very low academic achievement, some things were restructured to try to support the students’ growth in other subjects,” she said. Ms Williams is very sympathetic towards students and faculty who are afflicted by similar cut-downs and have to miss out on the valuable experience of music education. “I feel very fortunate to be at Midwood! I look forward to doing everything I can to build a rigorous and successful instrumental music program where students of all levels have a chance to excel on an instrument and meet new friends in the process.”
An undeniable advantage of playing music has roots in a rather recent area of study, the cognitive neuroscience of music. Studies carried out with MRI machines allow scientists to map out the brain’s activity real-time under the influence of music and the results are simply stunning. According to the book “The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music,” by Isabelle Peretz and Robert J. Zattore, participants who were monitored while listening to music showed remarkable neural activity unmatched to actions like solving math problems or reading. The process of breaking down complex compositions ignites almost every part of the brain. Even more amazing was the fast and interconnected movements of neurons while playing an instrument, which strengthens the connection between the two hemispheres of the brain. Long term, it is believed that musicians, among many advantages, have more detailed and longer lasting memories, more attention and focus and better organization of thoughts and emotions than non-musicians, according to the PCAH.
“Just as a person who regularly exercises is more fit and healthy than one who doesn’t, music can train the brain and make it more efficient over time,” said Mohammad Arshad ’15.
With organizations like the PCAH trying more creative and less standardized approaches to education, it’s almost ironic that students involved in music programs have shown positive correlations in academics with direct improvements in school. For example, a 2005 study by Harris Poll showed that music students scored 22% higher in English and 20% higher in math than non-music students and high schools with music programs scored almost 100 points higher on the SAT than high schools without. Perhaps evidence like this will catch the eyes of those who so keenly measure learning with test grades.
“Playing instrumental music can focus our minds in subjects like critical reading or English because it helps us concentrate during situations like exams,” said Mohammad Hasan ’15.
The NYCDOE’s “Blueprint for Learning and Teaching in Music” projects a utopia in music education. As early as 2nd grade, this brilliantly planned curriculum develops students’ minds, enhances their creativity, investigates musical literacy and encourages the exploration of several instruments. Plans like this one treat music not as an accessory to make a school look better on paper, but as an essential learning tool.
The scientific evidence is there and the direct and long term benefits are clear. There is no denying that music programs should be installed in every school, even if money allocation is an issue. Lack of funding is a financial problem; it shouldn’t be an educational one.