In a time when many public schools face serious budget cuts and increased pressure to improve test scores in “academic” subjects, school music programs are being slashed right and left. Music, along with all the related arts, is seen as a second class citizen–far less important than math and science. Yet if you talk to the students, it becomes obvious that music is far more significant to academic success than the government and boards of education give it credit for.
March is Music In Our Schools month (MIOSM), a national endeavor to support arts programs in public schools. MIOSM began as a single statewide celebration in 1973, and has grown over the decades to encompass a day, then a week, and then in 1985 to become a month long celebration of school music. The purpose of MIOSM is to raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children and to remind citizens that school is where all children should have access to music.
To provide some insight into the impact studying music has on students as well as the larger community, I teamed up with my sister Abigail Buczynski, who is the Orchestra Director at a middle school in East Tennessee, and was recently selected as a Teacher of the Year in her county.
She knows what it’s like to have her job on the line, wondering if the school board will deem her subject “necessary” for another academic year. Together with her colleagues and students, Abigail’s first-hand experience drives home the importance of in-school music programs, and gives some suggestions for how parents and community members can show their support.
Three Teachers Talk About ‘Music In Our Schools Month‘
Care2: In a time when many school boards are struggling to meet academic standards, why is it important to keep a non-academic subject like music alive?
“Multiple studies over long periods of time have shown schools with music programs have a higher graduation rate and attendance rate,” said Buczynski. “Students will often come to school just so they don’t miss their fine arts classes. Music classes are the only subject area were students are guaranteed to have an opportunity to use skills learned to stage public performances for their families, community and peers. This gives them a sense of personal and civic pride, feelings of success, and personal confidence not always found in other classes.”
“When you work as an ensemble, you become a part of a team that cannot function without all of its other parts,” elaborates Laura Taliaferro, the school’s Choral Director. “No one ever hears about a band, orchestra, or chorus without thinking of the ensemble as a whole. In their classes, they may work in small or whole groups, but in the end they are always working for their own personal grade. They also may develop social skills and a sense of belonging that they may not feel in any other part of the school day.”
Care2: What can students do/achieve in music classes that they can‘t elsewhere?
“Many students come to school for their music class because it’s where they succeed,” explains Jessica Fine, Band Director at the same middle school. “It’s a non-threatening environment that thrives on different interpretations and allows for students to make mistakes and not be reprimanded. Students involved in music classes are often able to identify and self-assess personal mistakes and process problem solving skills faster and more efficiently to make corrections.”
Care2: How does music support success in other subjects?
“Playing music requires students to count, add/subtract, divide beats, recognize patterns, discuss sound waves and vibrations, dynamics, tempos (speed), and visualizing various elements which improve spatial-temporal skills. All of these skills are necessary for thinking and problem solving in math and science classes,” Buczynski said. “Music also requires students to learn words in Italian, German, French and Latin. Students study music from Asian, Latin, and African cultures, and the composers and historical periods associated with them. This knowledge can and does boost performance in Language Arts and Social Studies classes.”
“I’m convinced that math came easily to me because of my involvement in music,” agrees Taliaferro. “We make our brains work harder and become more complex in our thinking when we are reading and playing/singing music at the same time. It is not a ‘one-sided’ activity, but rather involves both sides working simultaneously.”
Care2: Are there any social benefits to music education in school?
“Special education students who often are separated out of standard academic classes, find equal opportunity in music classes and music has been shown to improve visual and aural focus in students with ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, etc.,” Buczynski explains. “Playing an instrument improves motor skills and coordination and increases neural activity. Special ed students often cause an achievement gap in public schools test scores that makes officials nervous. Letting these students learn music can help them find the necessary skills to use in other classes and improve test results.”
“I’ve had multiple students who have excelled at school because of finding friendships in band causing them to feel accepted and comfortable,” Fine agrees. “This is especially true at the high school level with marching band. The group activity requires students to know their peers and build team working skills. Because of this, students become closer to each other and perform at a higher level.”
Care2: What can the public do to ensure that music education will remain part of school curriculum?
Author‘s note: It wasn‘t surprising that financial support figured into all three teachers‘ answer to this question. Teachers are notoriously underpaid in this country, with related arts teachers often at the bottom of the very shallow barrel. All three spend many hours preparing for class outside of the workplace, spending their own money on items the school can‘t supply, marketing performances, and organizing fund raising events so that their children can have musical experiences outside the classroom.
“The public needs to understand the benefit of music in our schools,” said Taliaferro. “We always need more financially and it would be great to see money donated towards a music program instead of a sports team. Both are beneficial to students, yet one typically gets more outside support than others.”
“GIVE ME MONEY!” Fine says with a laugh. “…and attend performances. If parents don’t [encourage] their children to participate in and support the arts, we’re doomed because music appreciation dwindles more and more every day thanks to the artificial, homogenized sound of popular music.”
Real Students Sound Off on Music in Schools
“Chorus is a place where I don‘t feel stressed but I do feel like I‘m important and I succeed.”
“I wish we had band every day because it‘s the only time when I‘m at school that I don‘t have to think about test scores.”
“I like getting to play all kinds of music, slow classical, fast pop & rock, music from video games, movies and Disney.”
“Music class is where I feel comfortable and have the most fun.”
“My music teacher really helps me learn how to play and read notes.”
Take Action: The National Association for Music Education offers a wealth of resources for teachers and community members who want to celebrate Music In Our Schools Month, including tips for getting your state legislature to endorse its observance. Likewise the National Education Association has lesson plans and activity ideas for teachers who want to celebrate music during March. Check out organizations like Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and Give the Gift of Music for more ways to support music in schools.
Images via Thinkstock