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Music helps students establish a voice

De-emphasis of arts keeps children from full potential

“Music education opens doors that help children pass from school into the world around them.”

– President Gerald Ford

To understand why music education programs are important work, it is important to realize what music education is – and what it is not. There is a common misperception that music class is a time to sit in a circle and play games while the regular classroom teacher has a planning period. While one may see all three of these things occurring, there is much more that happens in music class.

Take, for example, the music classroom of an average elementary school. Sometimes classes involve instruments (if the school is fortunate enough to afford instruments!). Often students will sing, and perhaps they incorporate movement. Sometimes they are the performers, and other times they watch performances. Students use listening skills and often they read. Music classrooms take many forms and with proper guidance give students an outlet that they might not have had otherwise – a new voice.

Music teachers are professional musicians. They are people who have practiced their craft of music-making in college, investing hours of practice with other professionals while they learn the art of teaching techniques. Sadly, rule changes now permit anyone who can pass a content exam to become a music teacher. This is not only detrimental to collegiate music programs but also puts students in the state of Indiana in classrooms with teachers not fully prepared to help them achieve their musical potential.

The Rhode Island School of Design advocated a concept of including the arts as part of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics initiative – thus, STEAM.

The premise is that the arts stimulate innovation and, in turn, economic growth.

The STEM/STEAM discussion really revolves around the arts interacting with other disciplines. Study after study shows that this is indeed the case.

The importance of music education does not revolve around simply playing Mozart to babies. Rather, it is grounded in the routine instruction of the art of music.

Modern studies now focus not on playing music but on learning music – enter the need for qualified music teachers.

These teachers help students find their voice not only vocally, but in other subjects.

Students broaden their interests and new personalities start to come to the forefront, helping them succeed in the workplace, home, and in society.

High-arts, low-income students are three times more likely to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees than low-arts, low-income students, according to research. High-arts, low-income students attend college at a rate of 71 percent, whereas low-arts, low-income students attend college at a rate of 48 percent.

Furthermore, students in arts-rich, low-income settings are twice as likely to attend a four-year college. While it might seem that these statistics tell us two different numbers, what they really do is show that students in the arts thrive. The arts students who attend college not only complete their degrees but also go on to graduate studies.

Music has value of its own accord. We make music for the sake of music! Music is studied not for math scores alone or for science application or for the invention of the next miracle pharmaceutical. Music education functions as a vehicle for teaching children ways of living their lives according to the fundamental values of our culture. With music education, students can thrive and be given a voice in their community. If music is at the core of human thought and behavior, then it is logical to follow that music must be placed at the core of learning in our schools.

So what can you do? This is about shaping, molding and finding the core of thought and behavior. It’s about using your voice. Think of how music has shaped you; how you have been given a voice and how you can use your voice to make a difference. Write to a former music teacher; write to a church musician; write to your mayor, state legislators, congressman, senator and president about the importance of music education. When you do, you will be giving voice to assure children today have the same benefits you received from music. When we act, we do this for more than just “music” – we do this for the greater good of our community and society.

Jonathan Busarow is artistic director for the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir. He wrote this for Fort Wayne newspapers.