Saturday, June 2, 2012

Why Music? Ask the Kids.

Yesterday was my last day of classes and I had the good sense to have the 8th graders write a final reflection about their year and their years. (For some of them, we have been making music together for eleven out of their fourteen years!) The last question was as follows:

“Imagine you are grown with children of your own and they go to a school that is about to cut out the music program. You go to the school board meeting and try to convince them to keep music in the school by telling what it meant to you when you went to The San Francisco School.”

I have file drawers full of brochures and pamphlets and articles and studies done about music education advocacy, all the reasons to keep it as a core subject in our schools as told by the “experts”— neuroscientists, educators, philosophers, sociologists. What’s often missing is the kids themselves. If we are brave enough, all we have to do is ask the kids. Brave because their honest answers will mirror back what kind of experience we gave to them. 


Music class alone is guarantee of exactly nothing. As we all know, a poorly taught music class can cause as much harm to children as it can heal them and help them. But when carried out with an unshakeable conviction in the musicality of each and every child, a love and respect for their personhood and a few good ideas (as in Orff practice) as to how to make it match the way kids actually learn, the kids get it. In this sample of testimonies below, they hit on everything important—the community bonding, the electrical charge that gives us energy, the pride in accomplishment, that sense of cleansing and “washing away the dust of the world,” that place where all can be wholly themselves.

• Music is important to the soul, body and mind. Music is the notes of life. each key press gives children hope and energy. Music is everything, everyone and everywhere.

• I felt that this music program educated all students in a wide range of music. Students without any musical background and students with ample background both took a lot out of the class. As a piano player, this Orff program was very important, expanding my knowledge on how to play in a large ensemble.

• The music program at SFS helped me get through a lot. It was a safe place where I could try new things, take risks, express myself, be creative and forget about my stress and problems. It definitely was one of the main things that made me who I am today.

• Music was one of the main things that kept me in check, kept me happy through my years in school. If you take away music, you take away childhood.

• Music meant a lot to me because even though I wasn’t very good, the teachers still respected me and gave me a lot of love.

• Music helped calm me down on tough days and cheered me up when I was down.

• A music program is essential in children’s lives because when I was a child, it helped me be proud of myself after finishing a song. And it gave me the energy to continue through the day.

• Music has been a way for me to escape from it all. With all of the pressure that schools put on the children nowadays, you need one class just for a release.

• I would not only talk about actual music class, but also the experience that comes from performing and being part of an ensemble. I would also talk about how singing brings communities together. All the ceremonies and singing time made my school a family to me. Looking back, I’ll remember that most. 

Thanks, kids, for affirming that we're on the right track. And may I say that just as music gives you "hope and energy," so does teaching music to you do the same for me. Viva la musica!

1 comment:

  1. Doug- all these beautiful things these kids wrote is truer than ever for me now at 36 years old! Music as a way to celebrate each of us individually and together as community, to celebrate culture and diversity, to embrace the beauty of rhythm and seasons and cycles and the fleeting nature of life, and to remember what is really most important- all these things are such a gift you give so many students! Thank you Doug for being such an influential teacher, spiritual guide decades after I left the SF School, and inspiration. Love, Jasmine

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