The Importance of Music in Education

April 2, 2012, 10:09 AM · This past week, I spent 6 days as an artist ‘in residence’ at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst). In addition to working with the students in the school of music and performing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, I spent much of the week playing for and speaking to large groups of non-music majors, who as part of their general education curriculum take classes exposing them to music and other arts. I was truly impressed by the commitment UMass showed to giving everybody an opportunity to experience art.

In one week, I spoke to nearly 600 college students who, over the course of the year, were covering everything from traditional Sonata form in the Baroque and Classical periods to Indian Ragas. We talked about the ‘inner workings’ of the Mendelssohn Concerto, the Romantic period, the 20th century composers on my new album, dissonance, and even 12-tone music. Over the course of these classes, I probably heard and answered upwards of 150 questions, many of them great, well-thought-out points – some of them concepts about playing that even I myself will continue to think about.

More schools and universities need to learn from programs such as this. Music, much like all art, is a reflection of life. Better than anything, it can capture a sad, happy, angry, or even twisted moment in time and beautifully mirror it for all to see. Music can help us understand further, reflect and relive, and express what we feel compelled to say during the times when our words helplessly succumb to the rush of thoughts and emotions.

Music is important – and that’s putting it mildly. So why then is music (the arts) always one of the first things to get the boot when things get tough? Even though this is somewhat of a blanket generalization, I think most would find it hard to deny the diminishing regard for arts in education, particularly in public ones. The knee-jerk reaction to cut the arts as a stopgap budget measure, especially in the United States, is an abominable disservice to our future. The result is an entire generation with limited or no exposure to the arts. Access to quality arts education should be a right, not a vague possibility.

But the point of this is not to be negative; it is to raise awareness about what we are doing right and how we can continue to perpetuate it. There are a number of exemplary programs that aim to counter this downward trend, such as the El Sistema program, which aims to directly involve young children, often from low-income backgrounds, in an intense orchestral musical experience, as has been so successfully accomplished by the Sistema program in Venezuela. This includes, as I saw this week, schools such as UMass and its efforts to bring music to as many as possible.

Of course I’m not saying the goal should be to churn out leagues of musicians (that would mean too much competition for us!), but rather to simply provide everyone the opportunity to be exposed to this vital form of human expression; to allow us all to look at the musical “reflection” and see life staring us right back. Imagine if today we all sat down to listen to some Brahms, Beatles, and Louis Armstrong, just perhaps, we might learn a bit more about ourselves…and others too.


April 2, 2012 at 05:45 PM · I love this post. I totally agree. In a similar vein, I love the following quote from Julia Fischer; I thought this was right on:

"But what we have forgotten is that it is not the task of the school to make workers; it is the task of the school to educate people, and to educate them in music and literature, all the things you don’t need when you do [take a job]. If they don’t know 100% how to use Linux, it’s OK, as long as they know who Shakespeare was — they will figure it out later. But once you start working at your job you have very little time to learn about literature and [music]. You only have time for that when you are in school, and if you don’t do it during your schooling then you will never do it. So I think that school time should especially be used to educate people and to nurture their souls, their hearts and their minds, and not to only make workers out of them."

(from this site:

as linked to on this thread:

sorry I don't know how to hyperlink!)

April 2, 2012 at 05:43 PM · I could not agree with you more. I am a middle aged adult, who grew up in the '70's when music, art, and gym were cut from schools due to budget constraints. I had never even seen a stringed instrument up close until my own daughter brought one home when she entered 5th grade. So I can say I am a direct product of the so-called budget cuts.

I announced to my family one day that I was going to learn a stringed instrument, and they all my age...I was crazy. It was one of the best things I ever decided to do - albeit it one of the hardest. I worked very hard, and still do - and am now in a local Community Orchestra.

I work in a Court house, and I practice daily near the lock ups. Ironically, I see how the inmates become quiet and how they listen in their cells while I play. Some of them will even yell,"What kind of music IS that?"

How sad that some people have never had the opportunity to be exposed to classical music.

We've deprived ourselves in this regard.

---Ann Marie

April 2, 2012 at 08:20 PM · How does art and beauty matter to someone who does not believe in absolutes of any sort and who believes that his/her existence is a random event of no consequence?

April 2, 2012 at 08:40 PM · Yevgeny, thanks for your post. Our of curiosity I went and listened to the Hebrew Lullaby on the website of your debut album. Wonderfully played! It's the player, not the instrument, but may I still know what instrument you play there? Honored to meet you on this forum.

April 3, 2012 at 06:58 PM · Yevgeny’s statement that “music is important” is paramount to the survival of music in education in the US. There are too many good solid studies that prove music to be a most valuable tool for developing young minds. Knowing that learning the ability to play, or make music has performance prospects that no athletic pursuit can match should be enough to propel music into the spotlight.

Alas, the spotlight seems to be trained on the elite athletes of the day. I heard yesterday that once you factor in all the expenses, it cost over three billion tax payers dollars to put on the NCAA final four extravaganza from start to finish. If it’s true, let it sink in for a moment. How insane is it that we can’t garner that kind of money for music? It’s a way better pursuit.

I guess we need to come up with a final four for music programs in the NCAA. Imagine filling the Super Dome for three days of music. Maybe then the talent behind the instruments could get their due. Instead of coaches getting the bazillion dollar contracts, we could spread out the wealth and bring along the music programs in this country. Maybe we could find idles and hero’s in the incredible violin, cello, bass or viola player that has excelled in their pursuit. Maybe the music program director could finally be recognized for their dedication and desire to turn out great musicians.

It will take all concerned to evangelize the cause. Yevgeny had the awesome experience of being able to see first hand what a creative, forward thinking program can produce. It’s not just the student musician that is the goal; it is the inspiration of a progressive quality musical environment that can propel the human to excellence. We should be demanding that our tax dollars create as many of those environments as possible. Instead of diverting those dollars to stadiums and arenas that only perpetuate the aggressive false hero’s our society seems to crave.

Next election cycle, ask your politician if they have any desire to institute music dollars back into the education system. If they say no, tell them you’re going to go look for someone who will. If enough of us say it, they’ll have to start listening. Nice topic Yevgeny. Keep up the good fight.

April 3, 2012 at 10:42 PM · The reason the arts gets "cut first" is a simple one. While it's a wonderful thing, it's simply not absolutely necessary for survival. Reading is, Language is, Writing is, Math is, etc..... This is an unfortunate, but incontrovertible truth, thus the arts tend to go first.

April 4, 2012 at 08:51 PM · Nicely done Cesar. Benedict, you don’t need football, soccer, basketball, baseball, swimming, water polo, volleyball or any of the other athletic pursuits to survive. On the other hand we may truly need music to finally bridge the gaps between cultures and help preserve our species. Music is certainly better for humans, in the all around category, than sports will ever be. Reading, writing, languages, math and the sciences are all enhanced by the gift that music brings to the physical brain. I can’t imagine living in a world that didn’t include the ability to hear or see someone elses, not just mine, interpretation of how something should sound or look.

The arts are important! They deserve every bit of the attention that other pursuits garner. In my opinion, the arts tend to go first because the elites in this country don’t have a clue! If they did we’d have musicians pouring out the windows and doors of every educational facility in this country.

I am all for erring on the side of caution and moving in the direction of a pursuit that has proven itself time and again to be the better way to go. Music does things to humans that no other discipline can. Physically, emotionally and biologically. The overwhelming stimulation of the brains grey matter and the synapse building qualities of music have been well documented. I think the juries still out on the sports thing (too may concussions for those folks I guess), but we seem to still be supporting it. Can't wait for that to change and we will see artful humans being elevated to the levels that the sports hero's are.

April 5, 2012 at 05:49 PM · Cesar, your point about musician’s brains being better prepared for intellectually demanding tasks is spot on. You have a good perspective sir. Personally, I’d like to see more young ones arriving at those intellectual peaks through music. I firmly believe that our society would be better served if we could implement the discipline of music in much the same way we do math, science and social studies.

I’m a firm believer that we should be turning out bazillions of musicians. My perspective would have the music educator’s primary goal be to do the best job of teaching music to the individual that they can. Then we should rest assured that if the music educator teaches the discipline in an enriching manner, the intellectual gains will come.

My only divergence from the path is that in my naïve point of view I really feel that the intellectual boost to the young mind happens, or at least can happen, subliminally. Often times the young one doesn’t seem to realize that they have become proficient at other tasks besides music, because of music.

I think we are seeing the same issue from different points of view. Knowing that we both see the sense and wisdom of having music be a part of the developing child’s curriculum is paramount to the discussion.

I firmly believe that if you lead a child to the gift of music, and they are given a chance to embrace the experience, they will ultimately benefit in many other aspects of their lives. Knowingly or unknowingly, it doesn’t matter. My point is that if you provide them the opportunity and guidance, they will naturally bring forth the great qualities that music fosters to other areas of their lives. I’m sure I’ve witnessed it first hand.

As an aside, sociologically, the percentage boost from the added intellectual gain we would experience by putting all capable children into the “discipline” of music is immeasurable. There’s also a very real possibility that we would see some very good and interesting music come out of the experiment as the students progressed into adulthood. Just my humble opinion.

April 5, 2012 at 11:20 PM · Thanks all so much for these comments. I am thrilled to see the passionate response to the current state of arts education. I must agree that music (art) is as vital as anything else in the common curriculum. I often worry about the perception that music is not necessary for survival. It is indeed necessary - if we are unable to see the life "reflection" which art so capably shows us, then we are essentially living blind to society. This is alarming and all the more reason we have much work to do!

@Jean Thanks for the kind comments! I am fortunate now to be playing a wonderful Stefano Scarampella.

April 8, 2012 at 11:29 PM · Here's a thought that might help a bit.

For a doctoral thesis, do an analysis of standard academic scores for students who participate in musical programs vs. those who particate in sports programs vs. those who participate in both. If administrative bodies are ever to change their viewpoint, statistics that show their ability or inability to carry out the academic mandates implied by the existence of their institutions (and their jobs) will carry the most weight. Either the dollars spent are getting the core job or they aren't. If the statistics show a higher level of academic achievement amongst participants in music, then the direction of spending will have to follow those indications, or the administrators will lose their jobs.

I am not against organized sports, but I do feel that a more balanced approach is called for. When I see academic scores dropping with an increased emphasis on organized sports and a decreased emphasis on music, I wonder if some administrators are too brainwashed to see that the emporer truly is not wearing any clothes. Good solid statistics may turn the battle.

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