Front and Center

Mike Lawson • Archives • July 24, 2007

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Every music educator’s dream would be a school that put music at the center of the curriculum and coordinated the rest of the coursework with the music department. Perhaps in Math class the concept of fractions would be taught in the form of time signatures, History would provide a context for learning about the great composers, Science class might include musical instrument acoustics, and Creative Writing would involve listening to music with writing assignments. Most important, the children would learn to sing, play instruments, and perform in musical ensembles. According to an article in the May 30th edition of The Boston Globe, this utopian musical education is similar to a fully functioning elementary school already in existence in Brighton, Massachusetts: the Conservatory Lab Charter School. The idea for this charter school was conceived by faculty and administrators from the New England Conservatory of Music who believed the concept fit well within the state of Massachusetts’ innovative framework for charter schools.

This program is getting top marks from parents and community leaders and there is a waiting list of over 600 students for a position in this ethnically diverse, mostly lower-income, inner city school. According to the director of the school, Jonathan Rappaport, “The organizing principle of the school’s curriculum is learning through music. The goal is not to produce musicians, but rather to use music as a way of educating kids in a very comprehensive way.”

A recent example of an interdisciplinary assignment at the school called for the Social Studies teacher and Music teachers to have the students write and perform their own protest song while studying the civil rights movement. The Globe article states, “Their words poignantly combine youthful idealism with a sense of the world’s struggles: ‘Let good be your guidance/Stop doing violence/ We should all get along/ Try not to do wrong/ Don’t discriminate, it only makes hate.'”

Studies have shown a positive correlation between students who participate in studying a musical instrument and their results on SATs and other standardized tests. However, the argument to that thesis has always been that the children who are given the opportunity to take lessons and perform tend to be from higher income, more academically oriented families. This school offers the musical community a more realistic opportunity to provide support for the positive analogue, as all of the students are given an equal chance to play an instrument, regardless of income level, ethnic background, or family situation. If our instincts are correct, then this test could provide incontrovertible substantiation for including music as part of the core curriculum in our schools.

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