Monday, April 19, 2010

Music - are we body and mind alone?

A friend who is a music teacher and I (another music teacher) were chatting this morning. He said that he believed we are mind, body and soul. And our schools do pretty well with the mind (academics) and the body (sports and phys ed). But the soul is often ignored and yet, might be one of the most important parts.

Specifically, when a financial crunch happens within the school system, what is it that is usually first deleted? The music program which apparently many feel is unnecessary.

In my some 50 years of being a violinist and teacher, I have met hundreds of folks who tell me that they studied a bit of violin or organ or piano or trumpet in their youth but gave it up and now are sorry that they didn't pursue the music because they so wished they could play now.

I have never met anyone who continued music and can play now who is sorry they continued music.

But music programs also enrich the mind - thus found several studies over the years. Typically children and adolescents involved in music tend to do better at not only academics but also at sports.

For example in a study reported in 2009, Laurel Trainor, director of the Institute for Music and the Mind at McMaster University in West Hamilton, Ontario, compared pre schoolers who had studied music with those who had not. She found the kids who had studied music had better responses on a test of brain development, suggesting music actually enhances the brain functions. She further noted:

Even a year or two of music training leads to enhanced levels of memory and attention when measured by the same type of tests that monitor electrical and magnetic impulses in the brain.


We therefore hypothesize that musical training (but not necessarily passive listening to music) affects attention and memory, which provides a mechanism whereby musical training might lead to better learning across a number of domains

Trainor said the reason for this might be:

"that the motor and listening skills needed to play an instrument in concert with other people appears to heavily involve attention, memory and the ability to inhibit actions. "

Harvard University researcher Gottfried Schlaug has also studied the cognitive effects of musical training. Schlaug and his colleagues found a correlation between early-childhood training in music and enhanced motor and auditory skills as well as improvements in verbal ability and nonverbal reasoning.

A study published in the magazine, "The New Scientist" suggested that music training can actually boast the IQ scores of children and adolescents!

Read the bios of the valedictorians of the High School classes and you will find that the overwhelming majority of them play a musical instrument.

So even if the happiness music brings us is not considered important, perhaps the powers that be will consider that encouraging music training will likely cause the participating students to get higher scores on the AIMS and/or Iowa tests also!

My friend and I talked about the recent Allstate festival in our state. This is where selected musicians and singers from all the schools are put together into a large chorus, band and orchestra and they practice and give a concert (or two). The result is simply amazing. My friend described it as "hearing the Chicago Symphony couldn't be better than this".

I totally agree with him because the thing I remember most vividly from High School in Chicago was the conference festivals (we had so many music schools and programs in the area that an "Allstate" orchestra might have been too large).

We rode on a bus to another school in our conference, we practiced in the afternoon, and then, the next evening went back to give the concert.

One has never lived until one has listened to (or better yet, participated in) these large orchestras, bands and choruses. A chorus of over 500 High Schoolers singing "The Seven Last Words of David"? I can still hear it, over 40 years later.

Or how about 25 trumpets playing on "The March from Ben Hur". After hearing this rendition, the movie version pales by comparison.

Not withstanding the rich experience of playing under famous conductors and meeting so many other High Schoolers and much more. We all looked forward to these festivals as the high point of the year!

Most people I've talked to, feel the music program in school gave them some of the best times in their lives, studies suggest that participation in music helps people for life and just talk to anyone you meet - everyone loved the music program and no one is sorry for having participated but many feel cheated that they gave up music too early in life!

So why are we always considering cutting the music program. Just consider this - the IPOD's are even more precious to the average teen than their cell phones (or they use their cell phones to listen to music).

We seem to have an inborn desire for music and all evidence suggests it not makes us happier and better adjusted people but actually makes us smarter too. Seems a win-win to me.

So let's consider cutting something OTHER than the music programs! Please! Trust me, your children will thank you for making sure these programs continue!

1 comment:

/ said...

Well apparently we're not doing very well with the mind (academics) and the body (sports and phys ed), either, since our academic rating internationally is rather low and the sports programs are being cut more and more.

Nice blog, Sue.