The Magic of Music

Nick Geisinger
April 16, 2000

Have you ever seen a toddler dance? Toddlers don't dance because somebody asked them to or because everyone else is dancing, the way we sometimes do. They dance because they simply can't help it. Music, quite literally, moves them.

During last month's Music in Schools celebration, music educators and VH-1's Save the Music campaign worked to reaffirm music's important role in a school curriculum. Stressed repeatedly were the positive effects music education apparently has on a child's academic performance—some studies have indicated that math, verbal and spatial IQ abilities can all benefit from exposure to music.

As a musician I have been thrilled to learn there may be "fringe benefits" to what I do, but saddened to realize that they are the focus of current arguments in favor of music education. If it turns out that music training does not bump up SAT scores, will we still value music education as an end to itself?

No class was more important to me than music class. From the moment the teacher dragged out the xylophones, I knew I'd found something I enjoyed, and more importantly, something at which I excelled. Looking back, I certainly can't say the same for any of my science classes. (If I ran the world, VH-1 could relax and the Animal Planet would have to mount a crusade to "Save Biology!") But, of course, all children have different strengths. School should be a place where they are free to explore them. It would be unconscionable not to include music as one of their options—there is no telling where another Mozart or McCartney or future music teacher is enrolled.

For most children music will not become a life ambition, but knowing how to make it can benefit them throughout their lives. During the most troubling and confusing times of life—periods of transition, moments of tragedy, and most days during the teenage years—an hour spent playing an instrument is therapy like no other. Playing music can often express what words cannot, in a way that can only be described as magical.

Even more valuable than its effect on individuals is the way music strengthens community. So much of education is about individual achievement, but music class is the ultimate form of group-work. The first lessons you learn, whether you're handed a glockenspiel or a wood block, are that to create beautiful sounds you must listen carefully to everyone else, and that your playing will affect the group. When children learn to play and sing music in harmony, they also learn about teamwork and valuing each person's contributions—skills that allow people to live in harmony with each other. These are skills we need to be teaching no matter what music education does to SAT scores.

Hopefully music's place in schools will be strengthened by publicizing its "fringe benefits." But if turns out that the studies are wrong, and there is no correlation between music education and scholastic achievement, will music still have a place in the school curriculum? We should not just hope so. We should work to make it so. Music is fundamental to the human experience. As long as people have celebrated victory, or mourned loss, or felt joy or dismay, they have found rhythms and vibrations to speak to and for their souls. No one can fully explain or quantify the profound effect it has on our lives, and we don't need to. Somewhere in its mystery lies its true value.



Nick Geisinger is Communications and Marketing Assistant at Connect for Kids.