Making a Difference with Tri-M (Modern Music Masters) Music Honor Society

Mike Lawson • NAfME NeighborhoodOctober 2023 • October 15, 2023

The Tri-M Music Honor Society is a program of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), focusing on creating future leaders in music education and music advocacy. Tri-M is the only music honor society for student musicians in grades 6 to 12 in the United States and around the world; its international footprint affords music students a global outreach of like-minded student musicians. 

As the former national chair for the Music Honor Society Advisory Council, let me tell you about the value and benefits it brings to its members, sponsors, schools, and communities. Of course, the common thread is MUSIC. As we all know, the music family is one of the most important aspects of one’s educational journey. It is not only an academic landscape focusing on the universal language, but it is a microcosm of life itself. Music learning and music making are forefront in the curriculum, but the positive spin-off “character development learning” is equally as important. The self-discipline and requisite focus needed to create artistic excellence is transferable to every aspect of school. Even more, they are the cornerstones for success in all facets of life itself.
There has been a mountain of empirical research devoted to the impact music has on brain development. We have come to recognize: Making music gives the brain a multisensory workout that can strengthen memory, helps with focus, and improves learning skills. It also ignites all areas of development, encouraging students to embrace the rigors of school readiness, including intellectual, social-emotional, and motor skills, along with language and overall literacy. Ultimately, it prepares us to be better people ready to contribute to the welfare of society.

Tri-M captures all these positive elements into a community highlighting MUSIC and LEADERSHIP, the foundational cornerstones of the organization’s mission statement: “To recognize students for their academic and musical achievements, reward them for their accomplishments and service activities, and to inspire other students to excel at music and leadership.”  Driven by the motto: “TO PERFORM, LEAD, and SERVE!”

Each year, Tri-M chapters vie to be recognized as Tri-M Chapters of the Year at the national and state levels. The Tri-M Chapter of the Year program is designed to motivate and reward chapters that perform various service projects, encourage chapter officers to perform their duties properly, and increase awareness and interest in what other Tri-M chapters are contributing to the community-at-large. Recognized chapters receive scholarships, however the competitive outcome pales in comparison to the countless endeavors of the competing groups. From serenades at the local retirement communities, to the all-school performances presented by Tri-M members, the commitment and dedication serves as a bedrock of high standards and spotlights the theme of GIVING. Above all, it reminds us: MUSIC IS A PLACE FOR EVERYONE.

If you have a Tri-M chapter in your middle or high school, you are aware of the far-reaching, profound effect it has. It amplifies the “sense of belonging” that is such an important pillar of every music ensemble’s value to and for the participants. It also is a built-in group of volunteers/leaders who have ownership within the music landscape of commonality, redefining the meaning of WIN-WIN…WIN!
From a human-interest viewpoint, I recently was interviewing a high school senior who was a Tri-M officer. She joined Tri-M as a first-year student (at the request of an older student who was in the band with her). My question was: “What has Tri-M meant to you during your high school career?” Admittedly, her heartfelt answer was not only compelling, but it went far beyond the expected response:

“As with most freshmen, I was shy and uncertain about entering high school. Being in the band certainly helped a lot, but it wasn’t until I was invited to become a member of Tri-M I started to recognize and develop my potential as a leader. My lack of confidence began to disappear, and it was replaced with self-confidence. Since our Tri-M chapter is devoted to SERVICE, there have been many events where my time was devoted to sharing my musical talents with others, or being part of a food drive, or hosting a concert with our middle school. Each year we do holiday gifts for underprivileged children; I love it. It never occurred to me to seek any kind of leadership position; I thought only the popular people were chosen as leaders. When I realized leadership is about supporting others, I stepped forward. Shy me stepped forward—WOW! Now, I’m the president of our Tri-M chapter, and my musical skills have placed me in the top ensemble as well. It sounds cliché to say Tri-M made me who I am, but it’s true.”

I was speechless when she finished. No doubt, this is one of countless testimonies expressing the priceless merits and advantages brought to those who are part of the Tri-M culture. Shouldn’t every young artist have this one-of-a-kind pathway to high-level achievement? Be encouraged to make Tri-M a mainstay for your music family. You’ll be glad you did!

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – Plato

Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, is Chair of the NAfME Music Honor Society Advisory Council

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