Music education important part of K-12 curriculum

Lee McClelland

On Friday, April 12, I sat in a crowded Kaufman Auditorium and took in the airy, brass tones of the NMU Jazz Band. On Saturday, I sipped on a cup of coffee while the talented Goldmine Girls played in the Peter White Lounge.

A weekend of music reminded me of the importance that music has within a community and a school curriculum.

During a season of budget cuts and sequestrations, it is safe to presume — under pressure to trim and cut from district budgets — music education will take a hit in funding in the 10-year span in which the sequester cuts will run their course.

According to a 2011 Gallup poll, when parents of K-12 students were asked what areas of the curriculum lacked enough emphasis, 24 percent thought not enough emphasis on math and science was a major problem as opposed to 13 percent of parents who thought not enough emphasis on arts and music was a major problem.

As an advocate for the fine arts, I find this relatively small measure of concern for the future of art and music education to be quite troubling.

Americans are so focused on the science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) fields that other educational areas, such as music, go unappreciated and uncredited for the contribution to a student’s education.

Emertius Professor of Philosophy at Durham University, David E. Cooper wrote of the importance of music in “Music, Education and the Emotions.” Cooper discusses Aristotle and Plato’s views on the role of music in society, especially in the role of education.

“For Aristotle, in a similar vein, music should be ‘conducive to moral virtue,’ have ‘an inspiring effect on the soul’ and be an ‘important influence on character-building’— thereby also playing in an education without which ‘the constitution of the state will suffer harm,’” Cooper wrote.

According to Cooper, Aristotle held that because music is an art which mimics the emotions, one can study music in order to refine their understanding of emotional response.

“If this is correct, then music forms part of moral education: by fostering appropriate feelings, it contributes to ‘the power of forming right judgements upon…noble characters and deeds, as for Aristotle there is no final division between right feeling and right judgement in the constitution of virtue,” Cooper wrote.

Retired professor of music, Kathryn Proctor Daux wrote in a 2013 editorial entitled “How important is music education” that “music affects the mind, the body and the spirit in areas such as education, creative thinking, self-discipline, listening skills, learning to work as an ensemble or alone, achieving higher grades, and learning standards for high quality work. Music enhances self-expression and better communication. It teaches students to be ‘doers’ rather than simply observers, and to learn self-confidence and physical coordination.”

Take Cooper and Proctor Daux at their word: music is more than just a performance art. Music education provides students with a skill that teaches discipline and practice; listening and communication skills; emotional and physical catharsis; and a stimulus which develops cognitive development.

I often hear the argument that music and the arts are reserved for the talented, but everyone has innate musical capabilities.

There are few historic examples of idiot savants who picked up bow and violin or settled their fingers on keys only to find a great talent pent up inside of them.

Even proteges have to practice. But playing an instrument does not require brilliant talent, just as any other artful does not require genius, but instead a passion or rudimentary understanding in order to enjoy the benefits of such practice.

And when a person learns to play music, a whole other community will open up to them.

I find evidence enough in the rich music offerings in Marquette, where one can find concerts and music shows in venues such as Kaufman Auditorium, the Vandament Arena and the Ore Dock Brewery.

And this point brings me back to the NMU Jazz Band’s performance.

A sea of community members gathered to enjoy the vibrant sound of Asu Rolland’s swift, measured strikes on the vibes, the sweet tones of Sara Park’s voice and Roscoe Schieler’s deft trombone playing. The band on a whole was terrific.

When it comes time for school administrators all over the country, in Michigan and in Marquette County to make budget cuts, remember this: music education is an important factor in the moral development of an individual, and school administrators need to keep in time with the needs of their students.