Is a music education really necessary or even beneficial for children? With American schools aiming to increase their standardized test scores and decrease their annual spending, it’s no wonder that electives such as music have been erased from the board. Music is considered a fluff subject that often falls by the wayside.
But is it? Statistics seem to indicate that an exposure to music can actually increase a child’s math ability, not to mention reasoning, creative thinking, scoring better on standardized tests, and making higher grades in high school. If it helps them brush their teeth, too, I’m all for it.
The reality is, in this day of slash and burn budget cuts, you may have to provide their music education in your own time, and on your own dime. If my early years of Intro to Music are any indication, that would not be entirely bad. You could direct their studies, and gain much more than the odd bits and pieces we learned way back when.
It was that turbulent time in history when all was being questioned in American society. Mainstream composers were not studied so much as slave work songs and Negro spirituals. How our grey-haired, white music teacher came to warble “Pick a Bale of Cotton” was anyone’s guess. To this day, I recall the lyrics, “Me and my partner can, pick a bale of cotton, Oh, me and my partner can, pick a bale a day. Oh, Mammy, pick a bale of cotton! Oh, Mammy, pick a bale of hay!”
At least that song was understandable, unlike “Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don’t Care”, which has, on the conservative side, I figure about 2,149 various interpretations. The song might refer to a mule eating the corn being trodden, or a slave’s corn rations being cut due to disobedience, or chitchatting among slaves who should have been working, or even has something to do with “gimme crack corn”, i.e., alcohol. As children, it was puzzling to be singing a song of dubious meaning and morals. Why was Jimmy Cracking Corn, and why didn’t anyone Care? We students didn’t seem to care much, either, but our then-master, the music teacher, wasn’t going away anytime soon.
While our vocal lessons plodded along as we sang gems like “The Age of Aquarius” and “Windy” at school assemblies, there was a bright light on the horizon when instrumental lessons were introduced as an elective in the Fourth Grade. Pupils had to demonstrate an interest in an instrument, which already flattened the playing field considerably.
We were given an overview of the brass, wind, and stringed instruments, and then allowed to try out an instrument or two. I settled on the violin. Let’s just say that some students were more suited to blowing hot air and marching in bands as football halftime diversions. They had me pegged correctly as more attuned to a string quartet.
By Sixth Grade, I was actually doing pretty well on my instrument of choice, and it was suggested that I audition for a Youth Symphony. The instrumental music teacher encouraged those of us from families with means to pursue private lessons, which we did, as well. I ended up with a teacher who accompanied me on the harpischord, making all of the practice time worth it. Her husband played trumpet in a large symphony and I remember him taking me, along with three of his Eastern European counterparts, to a huge concert hall where I watched them perform.
I can vouch that my reasoning and creative thinking abilities improved dramatically when having to figure out: if I went to the restroom during the concert’s intermission, would I ever find my way back to the proper seat as a preteen on my own? Along with my inflated standardized test scores, and high school grades in general, one has to ask: was this increased mental ability bordering on genius due to music lessons?
I don’t know, but it couldn’t have hurt.
Guest post ———– Copyright 2011 – Alexandra Bartologimignano
(Alexandra is a jet-setter trying to keep her head above water in several countries with several languages, several children, one husband, and two cute dogs. She is learning piano with one of Duane’s courses in her spare moments and generally chronicles their adventures at www.destinationsdreamsanddogs.com.)