Studying music: much more than rhythms and notes.

It is that time of year again! As students return to school, eager to begin learning new things, making new friends and growing through new experiences, there is a feeling of renewed hope, a sense that there is a bright future even in these difficult times.

Of course, some classes that your son or daughter had last year may not be offered this year. As budget cuts take their toll on curricula around the country, certain areas of education are pushed to the side or even cut altogether. Often at the top of the list of the latter is music: that wonderful tonic which brings together people of all backgrounds.

As these cuts are made, there is often an apathy that accompanies it. “Why do we need music programs?” goes the argument. “Classical music is just for rich people and old people! It is a hobby, not a career, so why should anyone waste time studying it? And anyway, it is so expensive–lessons, band/chorus trips, all that time spent practicing…no, music doesn’t have much of a tangible value or effect!”

Nothing could be further from the truth, and there are plenty of articles bemoaning this attitude and attempting to educate and rectify this issue. But at the heart of the argument lies this: Music, especially classical music, doesn’t really have much educational value beyond the playing of an instrument. To refute that argument, I’ve decided to look into that a little more closely. To wit, here are some things that your child, if they study an instrument, will be learning along with music(with specific examples given where appropriate.):

Teamwork (playing in an orchestra or chamber ensemble)

Discipline (from practicing, often unsupervised, for an hour or more every single day.)

Resilience (from dealing with frustration, rejection and impatience.)

Self-expression

Restraint

Leadership (again, from playing in ensembles)

Critical thinking

This is not a comprehensive list, of course, but it is a good start.

Still not convinced? How about this:
When a student plays Bach, they learn about devotion. When they play Haydn, they learn how to express humor without words. When playing Mozart, they learn about invention and ‘outside the box’ thinking. When they play Beethoven’s ‘Eroica,’ they are learning about the Napoleonic wars and the devastation that comes from watching an idol fall, a hero become a villain. When they play Wagner, they learn about the power of folk-tales and mythology; they also learn that good can come from evil and that the world is not black and white.

When they play Brahms, they learn of unrequited love; in Schumann, they find the voice of madness. Through Mahler they learn what it feels like to struggle to find ones identity. In Tchaikovsky they learn the pain of being an outsider and in Bernstein they search for a way to live an ideal life in turbulent times.

And through all of these composers we are introduced to great literature, philosophy, history, culture and different times.

Yes, music is a gateway–and a wonderful chance for a child to gain entry to a much larger world than most adults invite them to experience. Don’t give up on music–it will never give up on you.

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