the value of music

Lately I’ve been thinking about the impact of music on lives. Not only my life or the lives of my students, but on everyone’s life. We are currently in a debate in this country about the relative value of arts education in general and music education in specific. While those of us involved in arts education inherently understand the value and impact of arts education, it’s quite common that educators are forced to work in systems where the people administrating those systems seemingly don’t understand the value or impact of the programs.

One of the concepts that I try to discuss with my pre-service music educators is the fact that it’s important for music educators to learn how to work in such a paradigm. Often, I teach that earning a bachelor’s degree in music creates a worldview that tends to be quite music-centric. Music majors usually take the same classes together, musical or otherwise, perform in ensembles with each other, learn their musical craft in the same studio environment as each other, and build friendships that will last a lifetime. However, the downside to this education is that it tends to generate the thought that the world at large is like music school. Everyone enjoys music, everyone understands the value of music, everyone works hard at perfecting their craft like they do in music school, and everyone gets the fact that musicing is an essential human pursuit for the professional or amateur.

One of the things that I struggled with as a brand-new music educator was separating myself from the notion of how things should be from how they actually are. Until I found a balance between the initial mental pushback in my mind when confronted with an administrator demanding that I justify my existence, I had a difficult time being a professional ambassador for music education. The discussion about idealism versus pragmaticism is an important aspect of my methods course, and I encourage my students to think outside of their music-school cocoon whenever possible. How would you explain the impact of music to someone who has never played in a band or sung in a choir?  Would the inherent joy of observing school-age children improvise on Orff instruments and create their own musical performance be lost on someone who has never been successful at doing similar activities? Simply put, are those who don’t experience music doomed to at best, not see its value? Or at worst, dismiss it altogether?

One of the most important things for music educators to realize is that their teaching is going to have a vast impact on their students’ lives for years to come. While we like to think that our students will all become music majors in college and end up following in our footsteps, it’s important to remember that this is a tough business, and not everyone should become a music major. What is of greater importance is that our students learn the value of music and how participation in a school music program impacts their lives. Students who have a positive experience in our programs will be more apt to support arts initiatives, value the hard work of music educators and students, and have a greater understanding of how the arts impact human lives. These students will become the sophisticated musical producers and consumers of tomorrow’s artistic scene. It’s important that we teach them our values and give them tools to be active participants of “musicing.”

At the end of the day, those who scoff at the impact of music and the arts are to be pitied for their lack of soul. Clearly, they never sung in an honor choir, performed in a string quartet, left all their energy out on the football field with a marching band, or felt the groove of a jazz ensemble playing “in the pocket.” How sad for them. When we make music, we create a wealth that cannot be counted in dollars and cents. It’s the wealth of the human spirit.

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