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What Does Music Education Have to Do with the…Success of Apple?

Josh Harris • January 2008 • January 21, 2008

Well, I am glad you asked! For those of you who have been using any of Apple’s Macintosh computers (now called “Mac”s”) for any period of time will recall there was a time when Apple was the only computer that could really handle music well. Graphic designers found the same thing. Heck, most music notation and sequencing programs would only really shine on a Mac (and I would argue it is still true today).

Now, as Apple has forged into music in a big way (iTunes, iPods, and the like) I wondered if it was solely a tactical business move or was there something more at work. I asked this because, to me, there always seemed to be this intuitive sense Macs had for music like it was in the Mac genome.

It turns out that music is a part of the genetic make-up of the Mac with a linage that has its roots in• “music education.” You read correctly. Without music education there would be no Apple Macs• and possibly no iAnything.

To make my point, I asked the family of the late Jef Raskin for permission to share his writings on music education for a book I am working on. Jef had a little something to do with the invention of the Mac. In addition he had a lot to do with invention of “fonts” and helped pioneer the human interface with technology.

But before I give too much away it is with great honor and privilege that I share with you:

In Defense of Music Education
By Jef Raskin

I’d been thinking of writing about the benefits that music has brought to the four children in our family. The results have been rewarding for each of them. But they are young, and it is hard to predict the role music will ultimately play in their lives. So I will write about what music has done for one person on a longer time scale, and thereby relate a bit of my own experience.

For example, if I had not studied music, there would be no Macintosh computers today.

I took the usual piano lessons as a child; in my case from a German refugee who had escaped the Nazis in the 1930s. He was also an amateur astronomer who, at no additional charge, taught me to grind telescope mirrors. I ground my way from Clementi and Mozart through Bach and Beethoven and finally reached the divine Chopin under his aegis. Both sets of lessons had a common unspoken message: Patient, repetitive work where there is little or no apparent progress at each session can yield impressive results in the long run. Studying music is quite the opposite of instant gratification.

I joined the junior high band and later the high school band in my town, playing clarinet, trombone, and drums with equal ineptitude. The standard of playing was not high, and the music uninteresting but rousing and loud. I wore a fancy green-and-white uniform when we marched in town parades. On my own, I learned to play the recorder and was welcome in recorder ensembles because, being a pianist, I could read bass clef. For the first time, I felt a strong internal compulsion to practice, so as not to let the group down. In small ensembles every player counts. I learned about teamwork, to be prepared, to be prompt, to not forget my music and instruments, and to carry a pencil at all times.

Between my junior and senior years in high school, I apprenticed myself to a New York organ builder and repairer. I was not paid, but I was happy learning new skills and got to see many famous buildings, churches, and homes from the dusty insides of their instruments. My mentor also repaired mechanical music makers; shop skills learned at my father’s side made me able to repair these marvels from the first time I set eye on their works. I learned to tune harmonium and accordion reeds, and to adjust pipes.

The next few summers were even more wonderful. By a coincidence, I had learned something of programming (an unusual skill for a high school graduate of 1960) and the Columbia-Princeton computer music project was looking for a programmer/musician. They found me hanging around Columbia, where I would sit in on advanced math courses (hint for older kids: if you’re bored with your classes and want to study at a higher level, most profs will let you sit in on college lectures free). I had written a computer-music language, Lingua Musica pro Machinationibus I took Latin in high school, and tended to inflict it on the world and it became the starting point of DARMS, a music description language used worldwide to this day. One of the leaders of the project was Leonard Bernstein, who took the time to teach me the elements of conducting, critiqued my compositions, and even included me (in my capacity as fly-on-the-wall) in his discussions with his assistant conductors and first chair musicians on how he wanted various works performed and why. I got to use the latest computers and software at Columbia. It was all very heady for a 17-year-old and it provided another priceless education.

I developed software that did music typography on computers, a task considered groundbreaking at the time. This meant I had to study typography, and I traveled to various printers and publishers to see how it was done. Fine music was still hand-engraved in the 1970s and newspapers were set in hot lead. Cheap editions of popular music were done on crude music typewriters. Some of the fonts I designed for computers to use to print music became the basis for music fonts still available on Macs and PCs, and I find myself using shapes that I originally drew 35 years ago. I learned about the art of typography and the reproduction of photographs.

I’ll skip ahead to 1978, when I was working for Apple and proposed a new computer, which I called “Macintosh.” I designed a number of its technical details based on what was needed for (you guessed it) notating music and made sure that the product would have multi-voice sound generation. Music, non-Western alphabets, and graphics were built into the design of the Mac from its inception. When I first spoke of “fonts” at Apple, the engineers were clueless; microcomputers in those days had built-in letter-generating hardware. As unbelievable as it seems today, most people did not know what a “font” was, only graphic designers and professionals in the writing and printing businesses knew the term. Now I doubt if there’s a third-grader who’s used a computer who does not know about them. It is also gratifying to see Macs still flourishing nearly a quarter century after I first dreamed the idea (and named it after my favorite kind of apple, the succulent McIntosh). Before moving into the computer industry, I did become a professional musician, and enjoyed performing, conducting, and teaching. Conducting opera, in particular, was a fine introduction to the problems of managing creative and independent-minded employees. But that is not as important as the pleasure that comes from listening to my children making music, making music with them, the family closeness derived from preparing them for and then accompanying them at concerts and auditions, the pleasure I can give to others by playing what they enjoy, the peace I get from my daily practice time, and the greater depth of enjoyment I obtain from listening to recordings and concerts because of my musical studies.

Not all children will find music as central to their lives as I do, but a good education demands exposure to the wide panoply of human achievement. The arts, the sciences, and the humanities must all be represented and represented well and in a positive light by teachers who love and live them. And it wouldn’t be bad to insist on learning a few technical skills as well. In my case, it was music and mathematics that struck a chord and took root. I would not have been able to accomplish what I have if my schools had not had active music programs and if my parents had not strongly supported (and enforced) my studies. Every child should have at least the same opportunity. Making music belongs in our homes and in our schools.

This is a powerfully written statement by a man who has had an indelible mark on mankind. He helps reinforce for us what we struggle to articulate for ourselves.

We do not teach music in order to create great musicians. We teach music to our students so they may become great people, regardless of their career path. Jef is certainly another manifestation of this point. The fact that music plays such an important role on the development of every person is the most fundamental reason behind the idea of ensuring we have• music for all.

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