Music advocacy: what counts is the seed.
Unfortunately, for millions of young students there is a different reality. There are no music and arts classes offered during the school day and if they are, it's possible the classes are offered after school or require that a fee be paid. This may put music and arts education programs outside the reach of a struggling family's resources.
Sadly, the erosion of school music programs is increasing at a rapid pace due to many reasons: mandates to increase test scores in math and English; more options in elective subjects and a lack of resources: not enough space, not enough students, not enough equipment and, unfortunately, not enough qualified music teachers.
There is further evidence of the erosion of support for music and music education. Have you been to a concert recently? Have you noticed the number of empty seats? Have you noticed the age of the audience members? A majority of them seem to be well over 50 years old. Where are the young people? Why aren't they attending concerts?
Of course in some communities there may no longer be a local orchestra and if there is, it may not be performing as often as in the past. What has happened? What went wrong? Don't people value the arts? Is there a cause and effect? Can we draw the conclusion that after 30 years of sustained cuts in school music programs, we have severely damaged our cultural landscape? What can be done to change this situation?
The bigger question, in my opinion, is, "How has a lack of music and arts education programs affected our young students?" The painter, Joan Miro said, "More important than a work of art itself is what it will sow. Art can die, a painting can disappear. What counts is the seed."
Recent scientific research has drawn attention to the positive connection that music making has on developing the brain and improving learning abilities--especially in the area of critical thinking. Additional research has pointed out the beneficial effects that music making has on improving health and reducing stress. Most of all, music making enhances lives and opens hearts. I recently heard Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas say, "Wouldn't it be wonderful to live in a society where kids carried guitars and violins instead of knives and guns!"
We can help change the landscape and improve support for music and arts education. Several years ago, I came across this statement from the Iowa Alliance for the Arts Council and have taken it to heart:</p>
<pre> a majority of those outside the fields of music and the arts do not understand the whys and hows concerning the process of arts education. Provided with a clear understanding of those
bows and whys, and supported by quality arts education in practice,
people begin to realize the value of music and arts education.
If a district school board and its administrators are adequately
informed of the arts' unique benefit to children and if this information is supported by sound classroom practices, chances are that decisions regarding music's and the arts' status in the district will favor strengthening the programs rather than weakening
or eliminating them. </pre> <p>How can you, the independent music teacher, help change people's perceptions about the benefits of music and music education? Become involved with your local coalition to support the arts. You can locate your local chapter at www.supportmusic.com, which is a terrific resource for getting facts, figures and action plans for music advocacy in your community.
One strategy I frequently recommend to music educators: call up your local service organization (Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club and so forth) and ask them to allow a group of your students to perform at their next meeting. These business leaders are sure to be impressed by what they see and hear: dedication, discipline, leadership, teamwork, listening skills, excitement and creativity--all vital skills needed to be competitive in the workplace and community. Be sure to leave them with a fact list detailing the benefits of music education in developing students' lives. And ask for their financial support. Give them a list of specific monetary amounts that support current or proposed music programs.
A Chinese proverb says, "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The next best time is now." I urge you to plant a few seeds in your community today.
Danny Rocks is vice president, Educational Development for Alfred Publishing. After a successful career as pianist and assistant conductor for many top Broadway musicals, he entered the publishing field in 1977. Rocks is current president of the American Music Conference and is past board member of the Retail Print Music Dealers Association.