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Tyler Shepard Foundations and Principles of Music Education March 2014 To Music, or not to MusicThat is Not the Question

n Music has been an integral part of almost every culture through history. Some people have lived by it, while others have died by it. It has been an expression of celebration and joy but also a release of loss and mourning. Some enjoy music casually, while others make a profession with it. No matter how each human being experiences music, they experience it indeed. Such a universal art and practice as music should be carefully considered and deliberately delivered to all who would listen and learnespecially young people who are looking for their way in life. Aside from entertainment and pure enjoyment legitimate purposes for musicmany other types of benefits of structured music education present themselves. These benefits can include cultural, social, psychological, physiological, emotional, spiritual, and many other practical benefits that in some way better a person.

One would be hard pressed to find any culture throughout history in which music did not play an integral part. The art of music and the deliberate practice of teaching facilitate much of the transmission of traditions from generation to generation. It is safe to say that everyone on some level each finds their identity through their culture, often colored by music. The Irish have their Celtic festivals to the sound of whistles, and Uillean pipes, a type of bagpipe developed by Irish folk. Africans have their tradition of drumming while Tibetan Buddhist monks pass along much of their mantras through chant and throat singing. Countless other cultures have similarly unique traditions, some of which have been preserved. Others have been changed or lost through time. These examples merely scratch the surface on the vast amount of rich musical traditions which can inform students of the past, painting a soundscape of the world around them, and which can ultimately help students explore their own identity in their own

cultural context. National anthems, state songs and other patriotic music often invoke imagery of the glory days of a nation, highlighting the natural beauty and any principles that are important to the people of that nation. Some students wonder why the National Anthem is sung before every sporting event. The answer rests in the reality that somebody deems it important that we all reflect on the opportunity we have in the United States to participate in such activities, free from most outside dangers because of the sacrifices of our countrymen. Most would agree that this is important to keep in mind. Many other traditional American folk songs and instrumental music help us to remember our roots and appreciate what we have all the more. Other countries and cultures have similar connections between their history and musical traditions. Students can benefit greatly from not only studying American musical tradition but traditions of other cultures. Examining the music of a culture informs the student about nuances of the history that cannot be read about in books. If music is not taught, much of our own culture and cultures from around the world will be lost in time, only to be read about theoretically in a textbook. Performing, listening to, and enjoying this music helps the student experience the history, giving them the closest opportunity to literally walking in others shoes as they can.

Beside cultural sensitivity, many social benefits of music present themselves. Music has an uncanny ability to produce unity in a group of people who on the surface may seem to have nothing in common. As mentioned above, national anthems are often played and sung at events with a large, diverse population of attendees. On either side of the football field, basketball court, or other sporting arena stand two different groups of people about to root for opposing teams (with varying degrees of sportsmanship), yet they stand together in agreement, often looking up with the same sentiment at our National Emblemthe American flag. Some may say that it is not the music itself they are agreeing on (just try to get a crowd of 300 to match pitch), but they are agreeing on what the music represents. The

Star Spangled Banner reminds us, as Americans, of many things about our past, with the theme of being able to endure any hardship. It gives us the opportunity to say with one voice that we are proud of our heritage and agree to continue to pursue what the song and the flag itself representfreedom and justice for all. Similarly, religious groups use music to remind themselves what they are all abouta practice which has even brought many people to faith. Christians, for example, express their adoration for God in one voice through music in worship services, together feeling a connectedness to their Creator and to one another.

Students can feel a deep sense of social connectedness being part of a performing ensemble.


Burns, music teacher in Centerville Schools, had this to say about the social aspects of his program, As a music educator, I have seen music save countless children from a broken household or personal issues. One examplemy building currently has a poverty rate of 38% yet our chorus population is roughly half our grade level population. These students are missing recess to participate in chorus because they feel a sense of community and self worth that they are obviously lacking in other areas of their lives.1 Another way to develop self worth in students is through delegated leadership roles. Many marching bands especially have a structured student leadership team who are involved in some of the decisionmaking, planning, and facilitation of team spiritall in varying degrees depending on the school. Many rigors are involved with learning all the nuances of a piece of music, putting every individual part together into the whole ensemble and performing for a live audience. This rigorous process can cause students to bond together, having experienced some of the same difficulties along the way. Sometimes these friendships last a lifetime. Performance preparation also teaches students about the real world. Much in life takes hard work, determination, and a lot of patience. Music education can help develop these character traits in students.

Burns, Bill. E-mail message to author. 3/12/2014

Performance success can bolster students confidence, developing a can-do attitude that will help them become successful, contributing members to society. Through music instruction, students will not only develop skills vital to their success in their professional lives, but they will also have opportunities to make connections to other academic disciplines. As early as Pre-K and Kindergarten, students are learning their A-B-Cs. Music can help bolster the students confidence in learning something new, as the classmates are all learning the new material by singing together. Singing also helps students to remember the material of the lesson. Musicians and teachers write songs to help students remember the Periodic Table of Elements, the fifty states of the United States, the capitals of each of the states, the Presidents of the United States in chronological order, and many other facets of academic disciplines easily integrated with music. These psychological connections help each students overall cognitive development.

Neurology research shows that music is an important part of who we are as humans. Some scientists conjecture that music evolved because it promoted cognitive development, being a form of pre-speech communication.2 Research has shown that music stimulates the same pleasure channels in the brain as language, which serves to reinforce that behavior among those who are practicing it. 3 Further, scientists have found that music disciplines use every area of the brain so far identified.4 Given these findings alone, one could make the argument that music is an important activity in the human experience and serves a unique role in stimulating not only our creative faculties but our critical thinking faculties as well. Other physiological benefits of the study and practice of music might include staying in physical

Levitin, Daniel J. This is Your Brain on Music, pg 260 Levitin, Danel J. This is Your Brain on Music, 248--249 4 Ibid. 9
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shape with activities such as marching band, which is almost as rigorous as some athletic sports, and improved dexterity and spatial awareness among those who are learning instruments.

While most of the above benefits focus on an outward display of musics capacity to enhance a students life, much of what music achieves has to do with a students inward focus. Many people naturally find it difficult to come to grips with their own emotions, and music can help them identify and express their own emotions in ways they may not have been able to before. People with certain cognitive disorders experienced newfound social bonding with evidence of increased emotional expression through experiencing music.5 On a less extreme level, every student could benefit from music by gaining new tools to express themselves creatively. Shelley Jagow, Associate Director of Bands and Professor of music at Wright State University, emphasizes the importance of the emotional impact of music in all of her ensembles and classes. Music is such a part of who we are as humans. It is important that we do not neglect the emotional impact music has on peopleit is a powerful thing.6 While it is an easy thing to say that music should be practiced for the sake of music itself, it is hard to distance oneself as a music educator from the tendency to advocate for music because of all the peripheral benefitsa lot of which have already been highlighted in this article. Music can and should be appreciated at face value, and our emotions are well suited to helping us accomplish this. Edwin Gordon points out a marked difference between understanding music and appreciating music, while highlighting the importance of both. Appreciation suggests a favorable emotional response. Understanding is based on comprehension.7 Gordon posits that understanding music allows a student to appreciate music, and while his point is seen and taken, we may not ever fully understand why music affects us as humans the way it does.

Ibid. 259 Jagow, Shelley. Personal interview with the author. March 2014 7 Gordon, Edwin. Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Patterns, pg 21
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Music plays an important part in the human experience of the divine. Almost every world religion incorporates music in some way in their daily rituals, gatherings, and other significant events. In Christianity, devotees often experience their deepest connection with God when they are singing by themselves or around others who are singing praises to the Lord. African American slaves sang spiritual songs to help them get through each daywith a hope that they would someday be free, in this life or the next. Music often serves to remind people what is important and serves as a tool of unification, hope and strength in getting through the troubles of the world. The sheer amount of people involved in some sort of spiritual journey, and the important role that music plays in most of their quests, points to an idea that music has some sort of spiritual element, which different people exploit differently. Some may even express music as their spirituality.8

Practically, music can strengthen a community. Centerville City Schools are a good example of this, as many parents and community members not only attend concerts and other performances, but get involved in the music boosters. When asked what music education advocacy is, Bill Burns had this reply, As a music educator, advocacy is connecting the lives of my students to music and family. This includes school programs, home listening based on music class lessons, and building a sense of community through music making.9 Some communities seem to have a stronger sense of importance in the arts, but there is still hope for communities where music education may be dwindling. Where there is passion and a desire to learn, the vision of a well-rounded music education for all will take root. It just may take time to grow.

See Victor Wootens The Music Lesson, in which he refers to Music Herself almost as a deity of sorts 9 Burns, Bill. E-mail message to author. 3/12/2014

Music very evidently has influenced and bettered the lives of many people through history. Cultures have been defined by it; societies have been strengthened by it; human beings have become more sophisticated and continue to learn from it and through it; and we can all connect to our deepest emotionseven to the divinethrough it. Weighing all of the benefits of music and music education, the initial question raised, to music, or not to music? should not even be considered. What should be considered is how to make music, how to teach music, and how to live out what each of us has been born to do. Heres to joy and learning in the search.

Selected Bibliography 1) Gordon, Edwin. Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Patterns. G.I.A. Publications, Inc. Chicago, 1988. 2) Levitin, Daniel J. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. Penguin Group, Inc. New York, 2006