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Laurie Niles

Every school should teach music

September 18, 2007 at 7:10 PM

I'm happy to say that the work that I've been doing with the little first-grade tikes at my children's public school has been endorsed by the city where I live.

The Pasadena Arts Commission awarded me a grant, so that I'll no longer be teaching as an unpaid volunteer. They liked the idea that I could build a curriculum for use in other Pasadena public schools. (Who will pay for teachers to teach in those other schools is a question for another day!) But, perhaps if I can show that this kind of a program is good for kids, good for the school, good for community building, etc., then parents will demand it, politicians will listen....

Call me an idealist!

Applying for a grant, even a small one that would only pay a very modest stipend for one person, was as vexing and complex as applying to college. I had to write eight essays, submit photos and a DVD, get a letter of recommendation from the school's principal, etc. A parent helped me greatly by taking all I'd written and translating it into "Grantese," which is its own special language.

My chances were slim. They'd never awarded this grant to an individual; the grants have always gone to organizations like the city's symphony, conservatory, etc. But apparently the commissioners understood what I was trying to do: lay a foundation in children for musical skill building. And a lot more than music stands on that foundation. In fact, I came across a list I'd written in college while taking one of the most valuable courses I've ever had: "A Philosophy of Music Education" at Northwestern University with Bennett Reimer. I think we musicians intuitively understand why music education is important. But we have a duty, I believe, to convince others.

I will print the list here, just in case you ever need to enumerate "justifications" for the music program at your school:

A LIST OF REASONS TO INCLUDE MUSIC IN THE SCHOOLS

1.Educates the creative part of the brain
2.Teaches you to express yourself
3.Parental request
4.Basic art form
5.Entertainment (fun)
6.Keeps kids off the street
7.Enhances discipline
8.Group cooperation
9.Puts you in touch with your environment
10.Expands horizons
11.Appreciation of different cultures
12.School pride
13.Nurtures potential talent
14.Civilizes children
15.Expression using no words
16.Carries traditions and history
17.Well-rounded
18.Makes people more outgoing, confident; improves self-esteem
19.Teaches structure – the symbols, the rehearsals
20.A place to channel energy
21.Friendship
22.Therapeutic
23.Competition
24.Trips
25.Develops independent thinking
26.Supports athletics
27.Teaches responsibility
28.Leadership
29.Learn teaching skills
30.Spirituality
31.Helps students improve in other areas: language, math, maps
32.Entertainment for the community
33.Extracurricular activity
34.Sense of accomplishment – rewarding
35.Non-selective; musical ability crosses all races, economic groups, etc.
36.An easy A!

Okay, maybe that last one is a stretch....

Care to add to this list?


From Karen Dotson
Posted on September 18, 2007 at 8:34 PM
I love your list!
From Albert Justice
Posted on September 18, 2007 at 8:40 PM
Congratulations Laurie! Realistically though, the arts over the past 50 years have suffered terribly beyond cities in public schools from my understanding. I think it shows.

The emphasis on getting back to the 3R's, is giving budgets obvious priorities, or lack thereof. That you had to write grants for the most basic I think is telling.

I was reading a book awhile back, that though was suppose to be about music's effect on the brain, was actually equally about funding music education. If I can find it, I'll send you the ISBN for your arsenal.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 18, 2007 at 9:07 PM
Hi Albert, if you find it, you can link right from here. My arsenal is everybody's arsenal!
From Corwin Slack
Posted on September 18, 2007 at 9:52 PM
Quoting from Wikipedia: (topic quadrivium)

"In medieval educational theory, the quadrivium consisted of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. These followed the preparatory work of the trivium, made up of grammar, logic (or dialectic, as it was called at the times), and rhetoric. In turn, the quadrivium was considered preparatory work for the serious study of philosophy and theology."

While I have never been homeschoold or home schooled my children I can see why the home school movement exists. Parents wwant educated children and education includes music.

From Corwin Slack
Posted on September 18, 2007 at 9:58 PM
Perhaps if I had been home schholed I may have spelled it correctly.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on September 18, 2007 at 9:59 PM
I give up
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 18, 2007 at 10:31 PM
Laurie, you are absolutely amazing in your dedication. Writing grant requests and getting them funded is hard work and a d*mn nuisance. I'm so glad you've done this and gotten a grant so you can teach music in the schools more. It is so important. Congratulations.
From Diane Roberts
Posted on September 18, 2007 at 10:53 PM
Laurie,

You might not know this but Pasadena at one time (in the 50's and early '60's), not only had one of the finest music programs in Southern Calfiornia in it's schools, but also had a full time district MUSIC supervisor. There were two high schools at the time and 6 junior highs. I attended one of the high schools and we always got the highest ratings for our orchestra when we traveled to both district (Pasadena-Glendale-Burbank area) festivals, and for the winners of those (which we always were), the larger So. Cal regional festivals usually held in Orange County. There, we almost always got the highest rating, a Superior.

Oh by the way, guess which I school I attended. You might be surprised that it was the now "infamous" John Muir. The school was integrated and so was the orchestra. And this was years before "busing." The school was totally amazing.

It's sad to see what has happened overall to the Pasadena schools and especially to it's music program. Good to know you are one who will once again bring some of it back.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 2:01 AM
To add, Music is something that a kid can do for him or herself. It is not passive entertainment. A kid "owns" it.

Also, Music is a subject that any kid can study, at various levels of achievement, of course. My public school offered band, string orchestra, or chorus to any kid that wanted to study music, instruments provided. Too bad that school sports are designed to benefit only a few elite child athletes.

Congratulations, Laurie, especially on surviving, and conquering, the murky, often confusing process of writing grant applications!

From Albert Justice
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 3:10 AM
Anne--your comments are awesome...

Laurie--I hope you mean that. ;)

From Terry Hsu
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 4:56 AM
That is really wonderful news Laurie!! I am so pleased for you and for the music world.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 5:07 AM
Actually the Pasadena Public Schools are in very good shape at the moment.

Certainly a combination of Prop 13 (which dried up the funds for public education in California) and white flight to private schools has had a negative impact on the public schools in Pasadena and other parts of California.

But a major state and local curriculum reform was instituted in 2002, and between that and some major community efforts, the public schools are on the upswing.

There is too much fear about the public schools.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 7:29 AM
I was thinking all of them except #4 could be a reason to join the Army.
From Arthur Krieck
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 12:16 PM
The study of music adds to a child's arsenal of problem solving skills, in ways that are not present in other disciplines.

For children who are having trouble in school of one kind or another, often discovering a gift in the arts is the one thing that will keep a child in school. That's why arts education in the schools is so important.

From P.H Brackenbury
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 12:18 PM
Team building: learning to work as a group for a group goal, something often neglected in this era of ME.
From Sister Mary Elizabeth
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 12:44 PM
How about #39 Part of our cultural heritage. Similar to #16; but it's not just a question of appreciating past culture or other cultures--it's entering into a living cultural tradition, being personally enriched by it, and then being able to enrich others in turn and contribute to the growth of that heritage for the future.
From Deborah McCann
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 1:03 PM
Here in Tucson, there is a music program called OMA (Opening Minds through the Arts) that is catching national attention. It has a 10 year long history and has scientific reasearch proving how arts increases student acheivement. It incooperates all aspects of music (general, band, orchestra, choral, Koday etc.) with dance, and art (painting, photo, sculpture, etc.) It is at this time a K-5 while moving into the 6-8 this year. Hope to eventually move eventally al the way through 12. You can check out this program on the TUSD (Tucson Unified School District #1) web site.
From Leo Heska
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 1:23 PM
Jim is right. I was thinking along the same lines.

I support my son in studying violin for reasons that are impossible to enumerate in list form. A bureaucrat or grantor could look at the list and, like Jim, say "well, there are plenty of other ways of accomplishing those same things, besides/other than music". And they'd be right.

The list, though valuable (I'm going to keep a copy for future reference) misses the core of what music is (for/to me) about, and why music education is vital (again, to me).

There is a group of people, consisting of musicians, artists, authors, and some others, who live a life that includes the creation of beauty and good things. This includes a little 5-year-old sawing away on "Mary Had A Little Lamb". It may or may not include every player in a major symphony orchestra; some of them may be jaded &/or burnt out. To live in/with the creation of beauty is to live a different kind of life; to experience a different kind of existence. It involves becoming one with the craft/art, and communing with the muse/the infinite.

If you go to a place where there is a concentration of this type of person, such as Interlochen, you find that, among other things, the students there are more immune to such societal evils as consumption of mass/pop entertainment. They are not purists or ascetics; kids are kids, and they will try things out, and the mass/pop culture is highly seductive. But in the end, it is also a vehicle for advertisement, the promotion of consumption, and the "mass" or "herd" mentality. People who have communed with the muses, who have experienced the pain and bliss of creation, recognize that the shallow, un-life-fulfilling pop/commercial culture is of little value. It just doesn't fulfill. They have experienced true achievement and fulfillment, and don't mistake the inferior counterfeits for the real thing.

But that is just a side effect. When a person has experienced and does experience the wonder and joy of the creation of beauty, it not only fulfills. It enriches the person's life in ways that are, in my experience, impossible to explain to someone who has not had the experience themselves. I hate like mad to sound "cliquish", saying "You can't know what I'm talking about if you have not felt/done it yourself; if you are not one of the select". But this is actually true.

If there's any way around this "you have to have done it to know what I'm talking about", I don't know what it is. Music and the arts are simply things that have their own, powerfully good, inherent value. We can list the "side-effects" of music, like Laurie did. But the core experience is not so easily communicated, if it can be communicated.

There are other human experiences of this nature, similar to music. One is the joy of reading. There are plenty of people who don't read at all. Others struggle with reading, doing it only for practical purposes, like filling out forms, and that as rarely as possible. To try to explain the joy and transcendence of reading to these folks is kind of impossible. Only by going through the work of reading, reading, and more reading, improving their reading skills until the act of reading itself is automatic/invisible/effortless, can a person get to the point where they can pick up a book or article (or read a blog) and be inspired by it, and experience wonder, fulfillment, and intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and/or other kinds of stimulation. The joy of reading, like the joy of music/the arts, is something you just can't really understand and participate in if you haven't experienced it.

The public school system recognizes that "reading opens the door", and so, fortunately, reading is still considered a priority. That is probably because reading is also necessary to work within, and run, the corporate machinery of modern life. Music provides little benefit to the corporate machine (and in fact, tends to work against it; a violinist practicing for 90 minutes is not spending money to watch pay-per-view). I suppose that that is why music education gets little priority in the schools these days.

For whatever reason, the musicians, artists, and other creators/lovers of music, who know what it means to commune with the muse, stand somewhat apart from the rest of society. We experience a reality, and know a truth or two, that is not commonly shared in the general population. It is not a "secret"; Laurie's effort shows that we would love to have more people share in the wonder. But while not secret, this wonder is neither obvious nor easily communicable. So, any list of "associated benefits of music education" must in the end, miss the point.

One last point regarding Jim's quote about the army. He's not just a wiseacre in this matter. I have often noticed (again, typically when observing a performance or rehearsal at Interlochen) that clearly, the artists are having the experience of being part of, and dedicating themselves to, something "bigger than self". The only other place I know of that emphasizes and embodies this to such a great extent is, the military.

Funny, huh?

From Deborah McCann
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 2:54 PM
The musican in me agrees 100% with Leo. Unforunately the "public school orchestra teacher" knows that the only way to keep music in the schools is to show, in most places, that music is able to enhance and embrace No Child Left Behind or any other education program that says only "acdemics" are education.
From Carolyn Shields
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 3:02 PM
The music program in my schools was terrible, but I had my mother, a musician and former music supervisor, to bring music into my life. My mother's stories of her music supervisor days showed that music in the schools was the only exposure some kids got to music. Her school district had few musical families and few familes with time and resources for private instruction (kids got time off from school so they could help on the family farms). Music in the schools was so important for that reason.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 4:24 PM
Leo, beautifully said. And it's true, the inherent educational worth of music is VERY hard to describe to people who don't understand it through their own experience.

To be sure, music has its own worth, like reading and math. Actually, the man I referenced above, Bennett Reimer, did a rather good job of describing music's inherent value in his book, A Philosophy of Music Education.

From Rick Floress
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 5:46 PM
I recently bought the movie "Tucar Y Luchar" which is about the Venezuelan program "El Systema". The founder of the program, Jose Antonio Abreu, had the best line: "Music is the only thing I can think of where a large group of people come together with the goal of working together to create something beautiful".
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 6:05 PM
That's right, Leo. Play up the unique aspects or they'll just say if we have ROTC instead we can do all that and defend the country too :)
From Maia Jasper
Posted on September 19, 2007 at 11:54 PM
Hi Laurie, Good for you!

Marc Thayer, (brother of Jeff Thayer, the concertmaster of San Diego Symphony), is the director of the education department at the St. Louis Symphony. He came to New World a few years ago and gave an astonishing presentation that had actual hard evidence for many of the "intuitive" things you listed. It made the old cliche of "music education matters!" super specific and non-debatable. He was very open about sharing all of this data with everyone, so if anyone is interested, it might be worth trying to contact him personally for the information.

From Sherrie Davis
Posted on September 22, 2007 at 12:46 AM
Your list is wonderful. I wrote and submitted a grant to the Virgin Island Counsel of the Arts last month and have been waiting and hoping to hear that they have funded our proposed Music program focusing on strings at our Montessori School here. We have been without a violin teacher since the summer here, and we have been getting phone/computer lessons and also using frequent flyer miles to fly two teachers here, one next weekend and the other the end of October. It is very strange to be without a teacher after six years of practice and performance. We still practice and perform, but hopefully the grant will enable us to create our vision of strings, ensemble, orchestra, and music theory and appreciation. I emailed your list to our Board of Trustees and head administrator and key parents. Thank you for so many times pointing out the obvious in a different and creative way. Congratulations to you also for creating a wonderful program there.

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