Stop “Defending” Music Education
Music programs are under tremendous pressure. I can see that they are hunched over, with one eye fixed on a hooded figure who is stalking the halls with an enormous budgetary ax. Music programs are watching administrators rush by, chasing test scores and disregarding school music. It may seem natural to run after the test crowd, shouting, “Hey, that’s me too!”
It’s a tactical mistake. What will you do if your state is caught up in test dumpage, and suddenly your school’s tests stop driving it? (Because tests or not, the Ax Guy isn’t going anywhere anytime soon). Your program’s biggest selling point is that it’s test prep with a horn. You’re dependent on future testing. This is a poor horse to wager on the farm.
It’s also very sad. It’s even sadder that it comes from music teachers. It’s almost as sad as telling everyone reading Shakespeare is great because it helps in math class.
Music education has many benefits. There are so many reasons to study music education. It is not uncommon to see “it helps you with testing” or “makes it easier for other classes”. These are only a few items that should be higher up on the list.
Music is universal. Music is an industry worth a billion dollars, and it is everywhere. How many hours can you go without listening to music? Music is everywhere you go. Music is always everywhere. It surrounds us, and we are immersed in it; we soak in it. We would all love to learn more about something that is a constant part of our lives. What would you do if there was no music in the world? Why would you want a school that doesn’t have music?
Music is profoundly human. It allows us to touch and understand our most complex emotions. It allows us to know ourselves, our values, and how we fit in the world. We live in an age with a wealth of musical treasures from the past and the present. This allows us to find music that fits our mood and personality. Music is the instrument that allows us to reach within our hearts.
Music is more important than ever. Music can be so much more than just for listeners. Why wouldn’t we want to discover the secrets of how music can help us express ourselves? Music is a human instinct. It drives us to communicate with other people, touch them, and create music. We would be foolish not to offer students the opportunity to express themselves in this way.
Music is magical. It’s something I haven’t lost in 40 years. You take random marks on a page and blow air through a tube. The sound you get out the other end is amazing. It can communicate things words cannot. You blow air through the tube. You can also pull on a string. Or hit something. We can do a million different things with a million different objects. But if we blow air through a tube, we make sounds that can be heard by other people and reach our brains. This is amazing.
Music can connect us in incredible ways to each other. I’ve played in a few jazz bands and pit orchestras and directed community musical theater and church choirs. It is amazing to witness the many ways that humans make music connect and come together. It is a similar experience to play team sports. You are part of something greater than yourself and more than the total of its parts. There is no other subject in school that fosters collaboration, cooperation, and connections between students like it. Students learn to mentor and support one another, help each other, and work together to create something amazing and very cool.
Everyone is a winner in music. Sports are where two teams give their best and try their hardest to win. Everyone wins when a group of musicians or choirs gives their best. Unfortunately, many programs have lost sight of this truth due to the rise of musical “competitions”. Music is not a zero-sum game. The more people do well, the better everyone does. Music is a place where you can achieve excellence and awesomeness without worrying about being defeated, humiliated or embarrassed. Everyone can be amazing.
Music programs are a way to give back to the community for all time. You can see the long list of community music groups I have worked with. Although I don’t live in a large area, all those groups are there because everyone involved in them has gone through school music programs. School music programs are responsible for forming community bands, church choirs, and local theaters that enrich the cultural life in your community.
Music programs can bring pride to a school or community. A band or choir, just like a football team, can attract many people who are proud of their accomplishments and traditions. You’re wasting your time and not getting your program to build that support and following in front of the general public.
He was a great guy and changed the course of my life. People often speak of the many musicians and music teachers that he trained, but his greatest achievement was the thousands of students like me, who have been enriched by music their entire lives.
Music is amazing. It’s human. It’s universal. Because it’s something everyone wants, it’s big business.
Music doesn’t have to justify itself as though it were of no intrinsic value. It doesn’t have to be dressed up in mathematical masks or test-taking robes. It is a powerful, human-valued being, and we should all be expressing that love repeatedly.
It would be best to defend music programs because they are useful for other purposes. It’s like defending kissing to make your lips stronger for eating soup neatly. Music is an amazing field that you should defend. It is music that gives it its reason to exist. Emerson said, “Beauty can be its own excuse for being.” Without music, a school is less complete, less humane, less valuable, and less complete. Stop making excuses for music and stand up for it.