School's In Session: A Brief Look at Music Programs
By Chris Loeffler |
The NAMM (North American Music Merchants) association publishes their annual list of the top communities and schools for music education every Spring (the 2019 list can be found here). The criteria for nomination include outstanding instructors, curriculum, and more, but the amalgamation of these various factors sum to “How important in the emphasis in music education in this school/community education program overall?” As September has crept up on us and school is now in session across the country, we wanted to take a look at some of the more inspiring (and not so inspiring) things happening in music education.
The Boston Herald ran an article last month compiling some of the many benefits of music education for students, citing everything from demonstrated improvements in language and reading skills to improved social development and community mindedness, along with the correlation higher average GPA of students who participate in music programs and the documented therapeutic benefits to children with disabilities. While none of this is likely new to a life-long musician, it is both encouraging that these studies continue to push forward positive data and discouraging that the public (at large) hasn’t fully embraced the evidence of music improving lives and creating better people through education.
Many programs, like the Pass the Mic initiative in Portland, Oregon, extend the benefits beyond academic, seeing music as a way to bridge cultural gaps with immigrant and refugee youth and encouraging different ways to integrate into their new home. Not only do these connections help participants enter the education system with an area they can excel with less reliance on mastery or English, but it also creates ties between those of different cultures who are sharing a similar migrant experience.
Similarly, the World Economic Forum released an article this month exploring the role of music as a vital urban resource. The author posits that, as a cultural resource, music is one of our most consumed and enjoyed forms of societal expression. And yet as the business of music grows (the music industry grew by 9.7% in 2018 and Goldman Sachs suggests it could double to over $131 billion by 2030), it is as important that we invest in our music education programs as it is to invest in roads, sewers, and physical infrastructure to maintain our way of life. As our current era has removed the need for most to scramble for the essentials in life, a “good place to live” is now as much defined by its offerings (restaurants, breweries, bike paths) and culture as it is average wage or housing costs. Said plainly, without an investment in venues that facilitate music performance spaces as well as the committed education to the next batch of musicians, a community risks losing a part of its quality of life offerings as waning support erodes those cultural institutions.
Back to schools, districts across the country are given some guaranteed budget for federal funding around the arts, which typically amounts to a classroom and a part-time teacher to service all grades. This means it comes up to the district and individual school principals to decide how much of their general funds to allocate to music and arts programs. Given the incentive for STEM and federal testing requirements, many schools fund the arts programs last. Arts advocates decry the disparity in spending between arts and sports programs, but the holders of the purse-strings know that school sports are more visible to the community and more likely to create parent contributions, regardless of household income. As The Strad in the UK points out, opportunities for children to take a music class in elementary school is down 23% from 2010, while advanced music opportunities have been reduced by 38%.
Tackling the concept of how music education goes beyond personal enrichment, many schools are leaning heavily on the similarity of these programs to the lauded benefits of sports programs, such as teamwork and cooperation.
Schools like in Oildale Middle School in Bakersfield find resources through their community (this year alone required a $55k investment in band uniforms), but those come at great (and unpaid) expense by their educators to make happen.
If you agree with the benefits of music, not just to individual achievement of students but also as an investment of continued cultural development, consider checking in with how your local music education programs are doing. If they are well supported, attend a school concert. If they are underfunded, consider volunteering your time or money to ensure the next wave of music has a chance to express itself.
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.