A Musical Life Is A Meaningful Life (Points taken from the Children's Music Workshop Educators)
So many times we run across the test-taking benefits of music education, defending music as a great tool for raising test scores and making students smarter. It is just one more example among many of the “keep music because it helps with other things” pieces out there.
However, we wish people would stop “defending” music education like this.
Music programs are under intense pressure, and all across America budgets are being cut and music programs are watching administrators race by, frantically chasing test scores and having to ignore music. So it may seem like a natural step to go running after the testing crowd hollering, “Hey, I can help with that, too.”
Don’t. Just don’t.
If your state changes and suddenly tests are not driving your school, what will you say then? If your big selling point for your program has been that it’s actually test prep with a horn, you’ve made yourself dependent on the future of testing. That’s a bad horse on which to bet the farm.
Second, it’s just sad. And it’s extra sad to hear it come from music teachers. Just as sad as if you would say that reading Shakespeare is a great idea only because it helps with math class.
There are so many reasons for music education. Soooooooo many. And “it helps with testing” or “makes you do better in other classes” belong near the bottom of that list. Here are just a few items that should be further up the list.
Music is universal. It’s a gabillion dollar industry, and it is omnipresent. How many hours in a row do you ever go without listening to music? Everywhere you go, everything you watch– music. Always music. We are surrounded in it, bathe in it, soak in it. Why would we not want to know more about something constantly present in our lives? Would you want to live in a world without music? Then why would you want to have a school without music?
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. And because we live in a time where we can see and hear many musical riches from both past and present, we all have access to exactly the music that suits our personality and mood. Music makes the fingers we can use to reach into our own hearts.
Making music is even more so. With all that music can do just for us as listeners, why would we not want to unlock the secrets of expressing ourselves through it? We human beings are driven to make music as surely as we are driven to speak, to touch, to come closer to other humans. Why would we not want to give students the chance to learn how to express themselves in this manner?
Music is magical. It connects us to other humans in amazing ways. It is both indescribable and enormously compelling to see the many ways in which humans making music come together and connect to each other. The experience of playing team sports is probably similar. You are part of something — something bigger than yourself. We can’t think of any other school subject that so completely fosters cooperation, collaboration, and connection between students. Students learn to help and mentor each other, support each other, lift each other up, and come together into something glorious.
In music, everyone’s a winner. In sports, when two teams try their hardest and give everything they’ve got, there’s just one winner. When a group of bands or choirs give their all, everybody wins. Regrettably, the growth of musical “competitions” has led to many programs that have forgotten this — but music is the opposite of a zero-sum game. The better some people do, the better everybody does. In music, you can pursue excellence and awesomeness without having to worry that you might get beat, defeated, or humiliated. Everybody can be awesome.
Music programs give back to communities forever. Your community band, your church choir, your local theater — all those groups enrich the cultural life of your community are the result of school music programs.
Music programs can be a huge source of pride for school and community. Just like a football team, a band or choir can draw a crowd of fans who take great pride in the traditions and accomplishments of the groups. And if you’re not getting your program out in front of the public to help build that following and support, you’re messing up. Many schools who have made cuts in music, or who have ignored the need for music staff, choose to reinvest in music when they see the morale and pride of their school community take a dive when it was not made a priority.
Music is awesome. It’s human. It’s universal. It’s big business precisely because it is something that everybody wants.
Music does not need to make excuses for itself, as if it had no intrinsic worth. It does not have to dress itself up in test-taking robes or mathematical masks. It has deep, powerful human value, and all of us who love it should be saying so, over and over and over again.
Do not defend a music program because it’s good for other things. That’s like defending kissing because it gives you stronger lip muscles for eating soup neatly. Defend it because music is awesome in ways that no other field is awesome. Defend it because it is music, and that’s all the reason it needs. As Emerson wrote, “Beauty is its own excuse for being.” A school without music is less whole, less human, less valuable, less complete. Stand up for music as itself, and stop making excuses. Save the music!