Several years ago World Music Central ran an editorial titled Dumbing Down, the Dwindling Funding for the Arts. This article sparked some interest and I found that bits and pieces of the article have traveled far and wide as I occasionally run across snippets of my article reprinted and reused in defense of funding for music and art programs in our public schools. Hey, we’re even cited on the Public School Review, listed as an “elective music association.” I’m not so sure that we merit such a lofty title as an “elective music association, but, hey, we do our part to spread music news and information.
Stumbling across some of my own research made me wonder though. Our original article ran in 2005 and it’s now seven years later. So, the big question is have we gotten any smarter about arts funding and the teaching of music and art in public schools?
A number of researchers have been busy on the subject of the benefits of a musical education, including Stanford University’s School of Medicine. According to a Science Daily article from 2007, Stanford’s research team studying how the brain processes information found that music and the rests between played music affects the brain’s ability to pay attention and spark memory. The research, chocked full of MRI [Magnetic resonance imaging] studies, posits that music sparks the brain to anticipate and sustain attention. How cool is that?
Here’s another example for you. According to “The Comparative Academic Abilities of Students in Education and in Other Areas of a Multi-focus University,” physician and biologist Lewis Thomas found that 66% of undergraduate music majors applying to medical school were granted acceptance, as opposed to only 44% of biochemistry majors. That 66% was the highest of any group! Now, here’s the kicker, the study also concluded that music majors had the highest reading scores out of biology, chemistry, English and math majors.
Music therapy is being used to aid children with autism, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, coronary care patients and anxiety and fear suffers. And, catch this, according to a snippet found in the Journal of Pediatric Nurses, a research study has shown that, “music has statistically significant and clinically important benefits for premature infants in the NICU (neo-natal intensive care unit).”
The Journal of Behavioral Medicine of the American Psychosomatic Society ran a brief about a study conducted by Italian researchers Claudio Pacchetti, MD, Francesca Mancini, MD, Roberto Aglieri, Cira Fundarò, MD, Emilia Martignoni, MD and Giuseppe Nappi, MD; who confirmed that music therapy improved the mobility and mood of Parkinson patients. There are even researchers out there using music as a means to treat eating disorders.
So, now that we know music is good for you, what are we doing about it?
• The National Endowment for the Arts reports that the number of children receiving arts education fell by some 21% between 1992 and 2008.
• The Tulsa Public School system is set to cut some 150 teaching jobs, including Webster High School’s band director Carl Curtis, essentially doing away with band altogether.
• The Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania is wrestling with a $2.6 million budget deficit and if a 2.3% tax hike is voted down the 5th and 6th grade band groups will be cut, as well as cuts to the 7th and 8th grade music programs.
• Manchester, New Hampshire middle schools are facing the layoffs of some 160 teachers, the end to middle school language arts programs, slashed budgets for art and music programs, and even reductions to computer and technology classes.
Well, hell. It should come as no surprise with news like the National Endowment for the Arts announcement that it intends to cut the PBS Arts series by some one million dollars. Whereas once the “American Masters” documentary series received $400,000, it will now have to survive on a paltry $50,000 budget.
I can’t say in all honesty that we are getting smarter. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that there are some valiant efforts out there being waged to save local music and arts programs, but we as a nation still do not see or accept the real value of an arts education. We say we are a nation of “for the children,” “save the children,” “children first,” yet we cannot look past the rhetoric, the political propaganda or the cries of the money movers to make us the nation we say we are.
The hard and the stingy would have us believe that the arts are simple outrageously expensive, superfluous endeavors, flights of fancy for the shiftless living among us, but I’m not sure that being debtless but dumb is much of a consolation. The saddest part of this is that there is simply no way to convince the hard and the stingy. Armed with a militant, defiant ignorance of anything that even closely resembling research or studies or academic studies, those hard and stingy folks who’d rather send their children off to the manly, patriotic playing fields across the United States of America for a round of concussions rather than the classroom with a clarinet will rebut, rebuke and reject any scientific study I can throw at them. Pity. I always thought the scientific method and well thought out reason would will out over stupidity.
If music is good and good for you and yet we keep cutting it to the bare bones, what does all this mean? What’s the end result? Okay, let’s do an experiment, because that’s something tangible – something provable. Take one day and avoid listening to any music. That’s right no music for a whole day. Unless you live in a cave or in the bottom of a hole, I’ll bet it close to impossible. No television, no radio, no sporting event, no public malls or stores, no phone for many of you with music ring tones and no political events, which for some might be a relief. No singing or humming to yourself or others either. Now, what kind of life is that?
Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I get the whole financial collapse and severely strained budgets that span the nation like a bad rash and spur on some politicians to talk of the apocalypse. Unfortunately, we’ve fallen into the chasm of “getting it better for cheaper” mindset. Education shouldn’t be part and parcel of the cheaper must be better or just as good thinking. Music in the big scheme of things isn’t free, so why do we think that we can get away with cutting the one thing that gives us so much joy, propels so much of our economy or inspires and encourages so much thought, math and science – that inexpressible force that allows us to dream, fall in love and, if only for a brief moment, makes us better people?
Let’s put aside the cheesy jingles, the patriotic blatting of country singers cozying up to the local politician running for office or the rehashing of Rod Stewart or Whitney Houston songs on one of those insipid, television talent contests to really consider what music is. It doesn’t just fall from the sky. Musical study is not the embodiment of latest four-year-old internet sensation who can mimic Beyonce like nobody’s business. Rumor has it Paco de Lucia’s father forced him to practice the flamenco guitar 12 hours a day, even pulled him out of school to practice. It can take anywhere from 10 to 25 years to train a classical Indian musician. Music requires classes, requires dedication, requires serious study. So, what makes the rest of us think it’s so cheap and easy?
Let me share one last thought in the form of a news story. Recently, a Pakistani religious cleric issued a death sentence for 6 people because those people had been captured on video singing and dancing at a wedding in the Kohistan district of Pakistan. Now, it turned out okay after the Pakistani police arrested the cleric and are attempting to protect the dancers, but it just go to show that there are those out there willing to take away the simple joy of singing and dancing at a wedding. Remember, that which you don’t protect is the one thing somebody else will gladly take away from you.
Author: TJ Nelson
TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.
Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.
Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.