Restore music: Let's put STEAM power in our schools

"Without music, life would be a mistake" — a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche — is universally accepted. Many agree that without music instruction, school would be a mistake. Why? Because schools develop musicians, and because school success is greatly enhanced by having music-making part of the curriculum.

Unfortunately, instrumental music classes have been eliminated from the Rogue Valley's public elementary schools because too many seem to believe (1) students can start just as well at a later age, and (2) money can be better spent on other topics — the three Rs? The truth is that (1) young children are like sponges as they eagerly soak up music training with surprising ability, and (2) children do better in the three Rs when they are also learning music.

The results of eliminating instrumental music instruction in public elementary schools

  • Since the removal of instrumental music instruction in our public elementary schools, the Ashland and Medford school districts' high school orchestras are finding they can no longer handle pieces that are no more difficult than what they routinely handled a few years ago. The public high school orchestras are the "canary in the coal mine," warning us of the negative cultural effects of eliminating instrumental music instruction in our elementary schools. This may be an omen for our established "adult" music organizations — orchestras, bands, choral groups, etc.
  • The Siskiyou Violins, a world-class ensemble of young violinists from the Rogue Valley, had almost two-thirds of their advanced group members enrolled in public schools — elementary through high school — when they amazed the judges at an international festival in Carnegie Hall in 2012, getting the highest scores ever seen by the sponsoring organization. Now, just two years later, only about one-third of their members are enrolled in public schools. The public elementary school instrumental music cutbacks are significantly hampering the quantity and quality of music proficiency in our community.
  • A large segment of our school-age population is denied the opportunity to test the waters of instrumental music until at least the sixth grade, but by then the variety of other interests and peer pressures draw them to other pursuits.
  • Without instrumental music instruction in the public elementary schools to let students discover their aptitude for music at no cost, the only alternative families have is to invest in private lessons. The cost of private lessons just to learn how to hold a violin and develop rudimentary skills is not justifiable for many middle-class families, not to mention those at or near poverty status.

The benefits of restoring instrumental music instruction in public elementary schools:

The big push in education nationally is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Students of music have consistently shown high correlation with success in math, science and language skills. Music students have been shown to master skills in analysis, problem-solving, and abstract thinking — the very skills that STEM programs are seeking.

Quoting from an excellent article, "Role of Art in STEM Education Studied", in the January 2014 issue of Civil Engineering, the magazine of the American Society of Civil Engineers: "Throughout history, some of the world's most accomplished professionals in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields have had a profound connection to the arts and have even credited that connection with a measure of their successes in STEM. Albert Einstein so enjoyed playing the violin, he declared that 'Life without playing music is inconceivable for me.' " Dan Hurley, the author of "Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power", has cited the significant benefits of learning a musical instrument.

  • Many other parts of the country are awakening to the need to have arts (music and visual arts) part of STEM — calling it STEAM. We need STEAM power to compete in the global marketplace.
  • The local high schools have high dropout rates — approaching 40 percent in some high schools. Retention is significantly enhanced for students in music classes as they look forward to going to school each day to learn and participate in music programs.
  • Music and the other arts are an integral part of building cultural awareness and strong communities. Music is a universal language that bridges the gaps in age, social and economic class, race and ethnic origin. It is a catalyst for change: helping students reach higher levels of academic achievement, building leadership and social skills, and enriching the lives of the students and their families.

Music education benefits both the students and the community far into the future.

Roy Sutton of Ashland is president of the board of the Siskiyou Violins.

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