Learning Music is Practicing for Life

SBO Staff • ChoralJanuary/February 2016 • February 15, 2016

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practiceBy Mary Luehrsen

In 2014, the NAMM Foundation began hosting SupportMusic Community Forums to celebrate commitment to music education in various communities across the country.  We are in year two of this program, which highlights community support for music learning. All events take place in school auditoriums—or in in some cases, a local performing arts center—and feature student musical performances, such as band and orchestra, string quartets, steel drum, jazz, rock, vocal and classical ensembles.  In between performances, the moderator (usually me, but sometimes a NAMM member) has thoughtful discussions with school and community leaders.  The main objective of the Forum is to profile community support and commitment to music education offerings in the curriculum.  Basically, a SupportMusic Community Forum is a town hall-style meeting that convenes key community leaders who offer expressions of support for music education—financial, instrument procurement, hiring and retaining high quality music teachers — and where this type of support exists, music education thrives!  You can view a few of our SupportMusic Community Forums on The NAMM Foundation YouTube Channel at (www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWy7ZAnb00SVMVTsrtmamXnHhLKbyCIUY ); these events may spark ideas for advocacy efforts in your school district.

My favorite element of the SupportMusic Forums are the interviews with music students and their comments summarize the spirit of any of our community forums.  Students have shared very personal and emotional thoughts about the role of music education in their lives.  These include admissions such as, “I was new to the school in 9th grade and I wouldn’t have made it without a connection to my band family;” or “being in music is the glue for me doing well in all my other subjects;” or “I learned that I could achieve something that was hard and I learned discipline and focus.”  Consistently, students share their heartfelt thoughts and feelings about opportunities they have been given to learn music in school. Indeed, students repeatedly share that having music education during the school day positively influences their accomplishments and feelings about themselves. 

These proclamations from students cause me to reflect on my own music education and consider what having music learning early in my life means to me now. As I grow older, I see the practical day-to-day benefits of my music training, which has an almost daily impact on my desire (and ability) to get stuff done—and to get and stay organized.  It also informs my ability to commit to idealist personal and professional goals.   Looking back to my high school years, I remember crossing over to serious practice as I devoted ever-increasing hours to practice of flute technique and repertoire in an effort to perfect my craft.  As time went on, I started to understand and embrace what it meant to be a “good” musician.  Gradually, I became addicted to the process of continuous improvement as a musician.   The word “addicted” is not misused here, because I was guilty of some devious behavior in order to support my growing addiction to practicing the flute.  Although I was a basically good student in general academics, a bunch of times in high school, I faked an illness in English or trig class to skip out so I could practice my flute.  To any of my high school teachers impacted by my scheming, my apologies; it was an early sign of being driven by something truly personal and deep!

Research and the important words from music students validate my experience.  Music education guides and informs cognitive development systems along with personal traits such as discipline and focus; it also allows us a pathway to apply our whole selves — including our intellects and emotions.  Research validates and students are telling us what I have always felt: that as we grow, we need to learn and feel the benefits of working hard at something.  It is a precious and priceless outcome of the joy of learning music.

At the close of every NAMM Foundation SupportMusic Community Forum, we thank participants for their efforts and sign off with the reminder that “together we keep music education strong.”  Let’s all continue working to assure the joys and benefits of learning music are a part of every student’s school day.  For information and resources to keep music education strong in your school or community, visit www.nammfoundation.org

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