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Music in Schools - The Importance of It

When budgets get tight, the first thing we do is cut the “frills.” That means music. Then counselors and other arts. We should do just the opposite. I believe the definition of the basics should be changed from the three Rs to M, for music. Students who learn the M will learn the three Rs. This should start early in life. Some children can sing, learn to read music and play instruments as toddlers. Few people achieve mastery when they wait until adulthood to begin — although that should not be discouraged either, because playing and listening to music can aid aging brains. Learning to read music and employing a keyboard has a similar effect. I believe that is partly because you must think vertically and laterally simultaneously, combining chords and melodies. In the 1950s, as a University of Oregon music education student, I and others were taught to meld music, history, geography, different cultures and their arts, foods and customs while children improve their reading, writing and arithmetic in the process. Sports have long been lauded in schools. Sports are fun, and they are satisfying for the few who participate. But sports are a competitive activity. Only a handful of the most aggressive are chosen, and the rest sit on the bench. For most people, sports consist of sitting in the stands and rooting for their team, eating hot dogs and Crackerjacks, and tailgating with lots of beer. By age 35, most athletes have passed their prime. Music can be a lifelong pursuit. Performing music with a group requires working together in a way unlike any other activity. Visual arts and writing are solitary pursuits. Music requires depending on one another, attending to every nuance, fitting in, and enjoying the pleasure and satisfaction of participating in the ultimate level of cooperation. If there is anything this world needs, it is cooperation. Some argue that not everybody is musically talented. Nobody is talented at everything. If some students can’t carry a tune, let them play drums, and they can still reap the benefits. (I don’t mean to make light of drumming. It is a rare and high-level skill, requiring the use of all four limbs simultaneously, the ultimate in coordination and brain stimulation.) Music in our culture is used for playing with young children, dancing, marching, parades, relaxation, exercise, romance, sleep, advertising, worship, weddings, parties, background and mood for movies and TV shows, lullabies and honoring the president, as in “Hail to the Chief.” Music is used in counseling therapy, and in treatment and cure for stuttering (See “The King’s Speech”). Our culture takes music for granted. Look to Europe, which has an opera house in every little burg, subsidized by the government. Music is a universal language. People of all stripes and cultures can come together in performance and enjoyment without having any other language in common. By Jeanette Bishop 

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