My sophomore year in high school, I had an amazing opportunity to travel to the beautiful island of Oahu, Hawaii. My tropical getaway was comprised of various tours of the island, a traditional luau, hula lessons, and other uniquely Hawaiian activities. While the entire trip was pleasurable, the best part was the fact that I was accompanied by 180 of my closest friends. That may seem a bit overwhelming, but the large number of people made the vacation that much more enjoyable. This fun-filled adventure was, in actuality, a high school band trip. While many people see band and other music classes as inessential to the core curriculum, music classes are extremely important because they not only provide students with once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as my trip to Hawaii, but they also offer a safe haven for many while improving students’ academic performance and creating opportunities for a prosperous future.
For students, one of the greatest aspects of music education is that it creates an enjoyable classroom atmosphere. Many children often dread going to school, but for students involved with music, that is not the case. Youth who are engaged in musical activities are “likely to be [the] students happiest about being in school and the most successful all around” (Catterall). Music classes have an atmosphere of being separate from the typical school building, so students often enjoy spending their free time in those classrooms. These classes offer music students a place where they can enjoy a relaxed environment in which they do not have to stress about extremely strict school rules, dress codes, or policies.
One reason why music programs create such safe, enjoyable environments is the close friendships that are fostered in those classes. Intimate friendships develop within music education because of the extended period of time that students spend with each other and because of the diversity of students within the program. There are many different types of individuals within music classes, so it is simple for students to find friends with whom they are compatible. With summer and after school rehearsals, it is also nearly impossible for students to exclude themselves from the general “togetherness” of music programs. New students and high school freshmen are able to enter their new schools with ample friends because of the time they have already spent engaged in summer practices. Also, older students can serve as mentors to the younger children with whom they interact through music. These relationships will arise despite age, racial, or gender differences.
Because the experience that children have in music programs is so enjoyable, many students cite these classes as their reason for remaining in school. In low-income families, especially, the urge and desire to drop out can be incredibly high because there is no compelling force for the youth to actually stay in school. Music classes provide a reason for adolescents to receive an education. In an article in the Washington Post, Tyleah Hawkins writes, “Students at risk of not successfully completing their high school educations cite their participation in the arts as reasons for staying in school…” One reason these students do so is because of the “supportive environment that promotes constructive acceptance of criticism and one where it is safe to take risks.” As the author suggests, musical environments create “safe-zones” for students to take risks, be motivated, and reap the rewards of their hard work. These benefits of music education create an atmosphere that is desirable to students and adds to their longing to remain in school.
Keeping students in an enjoyable school environment is only a small part of the positive aspects of music programs; one of the greatest benefits is the profound effect music programs have on the cognitive abilities of students. Many studies have been conducted to prove that “musical education is correlated with better test scores and G.P.A.s” (Bryant). In fact, research has found that “students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 91 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less” (Hawkins). In addition to improving test scores, music courses encourage exceptional grades because students must maintain their eligibility in all of their classes to participate in the programs. It is extremely ironic that schools would remove programs that encourage students to attend school and maintain passing grades. Because schools are so adamant about improving test scores, “one would expect them to support activities that can lead to increases in academic performance” (Berry). It seems only obvious that schools should keep music programs in order to improve the testing abilities of their students.
Music programs also provide diverse opportunities, such as the chance to perform. In James Catterall’s article for PBS, “The Consequences of Curtailing Music Education,” he writes, “Serious losses would attach to the loss of children’s opportunities to learn to perform music.” Whether it is with an ensemble or an individual solo, performances provide an exhilarating opportunity that students will never forget. The nerves before a concert, the rush of emotions on stage, and the feeling of the audience’s eyes upon the performer are sensations that cannot be explained to those who have never had the chance to experience it. Performances allow children to feel important as all eyes and ears are on them, waiting to hear what they have learned through music education. There are few opportunities in the general academic arena that demand the perfection that performances require. In order to display a piece of music in the best possible way, it is essential for students to spend countless hours practicing and polishing their selection. Like the editing of a paper for publication, the perfecting of a piece of music involves patience and precise attention to detail. Performances allow students to experience the beauty of a completed work and the benefits of hard work.
Another opportunity provided by music education is the chance to lead. In Eric Shieh’s essay, “Developing Leadership in the Ensemble Classroom,” he explains how incredibly important it is that music educators harvest students’ leadership abilities. He writes, “Music educators have a unique opportunity to help their students become sensitive thinkers and leaders…The foundation is set for us as music educators to help students develop leadership in ways most classroom teachers cannot.” He notes that in high school band, particularly, older students are able to attain a position of authority based on their musical capabilities. These students have the opportunity to become a section leader who is in charge of their particular musical section, a drum major who conducts the band on the marching field, or even an officer who exercises authority in organizing band events and activities. By placing these students in a position of leadership, music educators allow for the discovery of skills that students may have never been in the position to use before. In addition to these talents, many students often acquire a profound feeling of confidence that they can attribute to their leadership position in these programs. Music allows children to be successful in all aspects of their life because they have the confidence to set out and achieve their goals in all realms of society.
As a result of this tremendous enrichment, many students receive opportunities for a prosperous future. Those who are dedicated to their music studies in high school often pursue their passions in institutes of higher learning. For those especially gifted in the field of music, colleges often offer merit-based scholarships for their talents. These gifts sometimes allow students who could never afford college to attend the school of their dreams. For students who continue music studies in college, job opportunities in music are readily available as they graduate from universities. In an article by Alina Dizik, she states, “There are plenty of opportunities [for musicians] to use [their] knowledge in the music field to succeed at a job.” There are career options for those who wish to teach, perform, or even compose music.
While it has been proven that music programs are extremely beneficial to public school systems in the form of student-development, grades, and student-preparation, the strongest argument against the removal of music programs comes from those who, like me, have developed a passion for music. Catterall writes in his essay that “the big losers will be the children who would have developed a personal passion for music… These are the young musicians who perform in school orchestras and bands when they reach sufficient proficiency and otherwise grow to place music near the center of their lives in school.” For those of us who have come to love music deeply, the removal of the programs would be detrimental to our goals, dreams, and passions. My own school’s music program has had a huge impact on my life: as a consequence of being in band, I have traveled, made friends, and learned more about the adult I want to be. The experience of playing—of adding the music from my saxophone to the music of the band at Pearl Harbor—was virtually indescribable. It was such a powerful feeling to stand on the deck of the USS Missouri, look out to the great Hawaiian waters, and perform for many of our nation’s veterans. The history of the island and the solemnity of Pearl Harbor combined to create a very overwhelming experience that few could replicate.
Bryant, Michelle. Op Ed News. Op Ed News, 2 May 2011. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.
Catterall, James S. “The Consequences of Curtailing Music Education.” PBS. PBS. Web. 18. Apr. 2013.
Dizik, Alina. “10 Careers You can Get With a Music Major.” Career Rookie. Career Rookie. Web. 3 May 2013.
Hawkins, Tyleah. “Will Less Art and Music in the Classroom Really Help Students Soar Academically?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 28 Dec. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.
Shieh, Eric. “Developing Leadership In The Ensemble Classroom.” Music Educators Journal 94.4 (2008): 46-51. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 May 2013.
Shuler, Scott C. “Music Education For Life: Core Music Education: Students’ Civil Right.” Music Educators Journal 98.4 (2012): 7-11. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Apr. 2013.