Help Save Public School Music

March 6, 2011 at 11:15 PM ·

 Our town, like many across the United States, is facing financial difficulties.  The school committee is talking about serious budget cuts, one of which is elementary school music.  I started playing the violin in a public school music program much like this one.  Without that program, I think it's likely that I never would have learned the violin at all.  My daughter has played the violin in the program for 3 years and my son would start next year, if the program isn't cut.  My kids will have lessons and instruments no matter what, but that's not true for everyone.  A group of parents wants to present a rationale for preserving the elementary music program at a budget meeting on March 15.  Does anyone have numbers, studies, facts, showing that music boosts academic achievement, builds community and character, and is not a luxury item?

Replies (13)

March 7, 2011 at 12:38 AM ·

While I don't know of any studies or numbers offhand, I am happy to tell you and the rest of the audience, from my firsthand experience, that I benefited from the public school music program.  It definitely helped my academic achievement, character, and sense of community.  The benefits continue, even though I don't make a living in the music business.

I'd been listening to classical music at home since I was very small -- orchestral, vocal, violin, piano; but when a professional orchestra played at my elementary school, I actually saw and heard in person how string players made the music come alive.  The violin bug really bit me.  I started playing soon afterward.

I was supposed to start violin lessons in the public school program but ended up going with a private teacher instead.  Later, it was through the public school program that I started gaining orchestral experience.

Before posting, I did a few Google searches -- "public school music funding," "wasteful school spending," "public school waste," "public school indoctrination."  From what I've read, it sounds like the funds are there -- but that the special interests are grabbing them up first for useless or questionable programs -- things that often induce parents to take their kids out of public schools and enroll them elsewhere, where they can get a better all-around education.

March 7, 2011 at 01:31 AM ·

Karen, googling "music academic achievement" and "music academic achievement statistics" yields lots of promising leads to what you're looking for.

March 7, 2011 at 01:56 AM ·

Dear Karen,

Eliminating elementary school string programs guarantees that middle and high school programs will whither away and die. Unless students begin learning strings in elementary school, it is unlikely that they will take up string playing when they are older. There is data available to prove this.The date also proves that, ironically, school systems that eliminate elementary school string programs soon discover that they actually lose money in the long term, rather than saving money. That's because a typical school orchestra director has many more students than a classroom teacher. In my county,  which seriously considered doing what you are facing, we were able to prove that $7 million dollars/yr, would be saved for just two years. After that, the county would have to pay $8 million dollars/yr. in replacement classroom teachers. Both the school board and the county board of supervisors (who appropriate county funds to the school system) saw the light and our county's string programs have been preserved.

I recommend that you contact Mary Wagner, through the American String Teachers Association for help. Mary is the point person who will help you develop coalitions that even the most fiscal conservatives will take seriously.

Best regards,

Gary Frisch, Past President

Virginia String Teachers Association (VASTA)

March 7, 2011 at 02:40 AM ·

It's pretty simple, music is one of the 7 types of Intelligence

If that school aims to be a good school, it should allow opportunities to students to develop each one of these 7 types. 

That beeing said, school is not the only way one will start violin...  

I had no violin at school, yet I tried it after having tried a guitar for a few months at home.  I realized that I liked strings and that violin would be a much better match with my personnality.  

I had wind instruments at school and while quite a few took wind instruments in their teens, almost no one I know of my age group (now in their 20s) still play.  Though I'm sure they all enjoyed the experience when they were in high school!

Good luck!




March 7, 2011 at 02:42 AM ·

I agree with Gary's points.

I also want to say that as compelling as the statistics are, flesh-and-blood results and passion speak the loudest -- see if you can still get in a couple persuasive student testimonials. Nothing in school turned me on like music did, and there are many like me.  High academic achievement came to me easily, but I would likely still have had an unremarkable, mediocre school career without my violin and might still be wondering what the he!! am I going to do with my life.  Simply put, students deserve as many possible chances to find the thing that makes them light up.  Music very often is one of those things that reaches people when nothing else does.

March 7, 2011 at 02:48 AM ·

 i hope karen's effort will get somewhere because music education should be part of the package.  

here is a question.  in reality lets say there are 8 subjects being funded and one has to go next year because of lack of funding.  if not music, what shall it be?

how about foreign language?

how about social studies? 

how about gym class?

how about no more school trips?

raise tax?

cut teacher salary?

get rid of the school nurse and call home or 911 instead?

parents who are interested in preserving the music program get together and fund raise?

parents who are interested in preserving the music program get together and actually pay for it?

March 7, 2011 at 01:32 PM ·

Contact MENC, ASTA, & the Mr.Holland Foundation for printed info. Sue

March 7, 2011 at 05:13 PM ·

You only have a week- yikes!  Can anyone get access to data about grade point averages, dropout rates, etc., for music students versus the general school population?  Can you round up a couple of kids to address the school board about what music has meant to them, or how it has helped keep them on track and in school?  (Especially effective if you can find kids who fit the at-risk profile but have done well.)

Keeping it in the grade schools is critical.  Our local district has recently revived a string program absent for 45 years, but made a deal with the devil (my opinion!) to start all instrumental music in middle school.  I volunteer in one of these programs, and feel very strongly that if kids started in about 4th grade, they would develop some skills, including self-discipline, that would help ease their way through adolescence.  By the time they hit middle school, even the easiest kids have the attention span of a gerbil, and the kids who are having a tougher time to start with are even harder to reach.  They're all much more self-conscious than younger kids, less likely to risk looking like a fool, less willing to show enthusiasm, all of which are, as we know, essential to learning strings.

Give it your best, Karen.  Let the rest of us know how you do and what's more and less effective.

March 7, 2011 at 05:32 PM ·

Although I am a product of the public school system (Chicago), I do not recall any instrumental programs or teachers in elementary school (which is when I started to take violin lessons). In high school, though, I was a member of our orchestra throughout high school, and we had city-wide public school orchestra competitions, which were not necessarily at a professional level but which were priceless experiences.

Sorry, I don't have any data on the value of music in the public schools.

However, I am a professional psychologist, an educator, an amateur violinist, a life-long music lover, and someone who has co-authored 2 books on academic underachievement. My opinion is that, yes, when it comes to slashing education budgets, music may seem to a legislator to be impractical and unnecessary as an academic subject.

But I truly believe that its value in a civilized society is incalculable. And that may very well include learning skills such as memorization, eye-hand coordination, history, working together in groups, mathematics, physiology, public performance, achieving excellence, bridging international and ethnic barriers, and so many more.  Music is so important a societal force that even the two most monstrous dictators of the last 100 years - Stalin and Hitler - gave special attention to music: what kinds were allowed and what kinds could result in being persecuted (just for listening).

Promoting music in our public schools helps to ensure our heritage, our freedom, and our commitment to a civilized, enriched, and meaningful life. To shut it out of our public schools would be a disaster.


March 8, 2011 at 03:44 AM ·

While shopping for sheet music on the weekend I came across a booklet describing the value of music education.  Sorry, I can't remember the author, but it was produced by one of the big music publishers like Carl Fischer, and contained all sorts of studies and statistics showing, for instance, that students with musical education scored higher in other academic skills.  If you google for "benefits of music education statistics" you'll find lots of material, though.

March 9, 2011 at 03:32 AM ·

This link might have some helpful research info.

March 9, 2011 at 01:26 PM ·

 Thanks for the links to advocacy resources!  Gary, you probably know this, but ASTA has an entire advocacy resource page:

Al, you hit the nail on the head as far as the conversation being had in the town.  It's not just music on the chopping block.  In my opinion the broader issue is that we need to be realistic about not just decreasing spending, but increasing income for the town, and that includes tax increases.  

March 9, 2011 at 06:02 PM ·

In a time of economic inequality and uncertainty, we are cheating our poor and lower-middle class students of benefits that come from studying music - benefits that they could have accrued if they could afford the $100 extra a month for an instrument and lessons. It's class discrimination. A few years ago I would have labeled my extended family middle class. Now? Not so much. Money for lessons dried up a few years ago, and there's nothing for college or other supplemental educational pursuits. And I'm not alone. If I would have been born a few years later, I would still be looking with longing at the cardboard violin I made when I was nine in an effort to convince my family I was serious about music. Or, sadder still, I would have chucked it in the trash and told myself, you don't deserve that. Which is not true. Every child in America deserves a basic education in music if they want it. I'm not saying that all interests and dreams should be subsidized, but surely if we're the wealthiest nation of the face of the planet, as we have been told again and again and again ad nauseum, and if we truly believe that all men are created equal, then I think it follows that there needs to be - not should be; needs to be - a certain equality within the education system. That includes making sure that basic music education is available to anyone who wants it. Otherwise, let's just stop pretending that we're so passionate about expanding educational opportunities for all Americans, and let's be honest about our priorities. Frankly, someone actually telling the truth like that would be a huge relief to me. The hypocrisy bothers me most of all: the mixed messaging of "we're the wealthiest nation that has ever existed!" and "sorry, we don't have the money to fund even basic music education." As the organization Sojourners has said, a budget is a moral document. It reveals our priorities as a country. Needless to say I don't think we fare particularly well by that yardstick.

There is a beautiful passage from Vikram Seth's book An Equal Music that has stayed with me ever since I read it for the first time. The narrator, a professional violinist, is speaking of his hometown.

Because the comprehensive I went to had been the old grammar school, it had a fine tradition of music. And the services of what were known as peripatetic music teachers were provided by the local education authorities. But all this has been cut back now, if it has not completely disappeared. There was a system for loaning instruments free or almost free of charge to those who could not afford them - all scrapped with the educational cuts as the budgetary hatchet struck again and again. The music centre where the young musicians of the area would gather to play in an orchestra on Saturdays is now derelict. Yesterday I drove past it: the windows were smashed; it has been dead for years. If I had been born in Rochdale five years later, I don't see how I - coming from the background I did, and there were so many who were much poorer - could have kept my love of the violin alive.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

2023 Authenticate LA: Los Angeles Violin Shop
2023 Authenticate LA Shopping Guide Shopping Guide


Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine