According to NAfME, March is Music In Our Schools Month® (MIOSM®). Because of this, let’s revisit some of the values of music. And know the values of music have become increasingly clear. Why now and how so?
During pandemic-based online classes last Fall, one of my graduate students announced: “I’m so grateful to have a job; but I hate teaching music online. I miss seeing my kids’ faces; I miss being with them; I miss making actual music in an actual room with one another.”
Another said: “Nothing, no online virtual choir, can take the place of feeling-through live music making together.”
Another said, in tears, “I’m trying so hard to be positive, but I found myself crying after teaching chorus online today… music is a human art. Not connecting with students through music makes me feel like a part of me is missing…”
Beyond hearing from teachers in NJ, I visited a kindergarten music class online this time last year. I won’t go into the entire class’s musical happenings. But at the very end of the class, one student refused to leave the class’s online “room.” The teacher said: “But class is over. It’s time for you to go to your next class.” The student said, “Yeah but I’ve created a song for you. Don’t you want to hear it?” How could the teacher not have allowed her to perform her song? So on the spot—it was quite clear she just didn’t want to leave, and did what she could to keep their time together going—this student proceeded to make up a “song” and sing, “Mr. Wallington, I love you, and I love music class, and I want to sing and sing and sing all day long…”
So, why were music teachers crying? Why was this kindergarten student doing everything in her power to stay in music class?
The real question is: Why does music matter related to one’s education? Or, stated differently, Why does music matter for one’s life? Here are 3 values. They aren’t the most comprehensive. Still, they’re potential values to all kinds of music making and sharing.
- Self-other understanding. Experiencing and expressing oneself through music and accepting and receiving an other through music. This understanding depends and is contingent upon many factors. When I experience and express myself through music—when I compose a pop song, perform in an ensemble, or dance through, say, West African drumming, singing, and dancing—I gain a sense of self-knowledge (and self-other knowledge), self-growth (and self-other growth), and self-esteem I couldn’t gain otherwise. Why? When musical challenges meet (or slightly enhance) my abilities, I experience flow (also known as optimal experience). “Flow” describes a kind of experience that’s so engaging that it’s worth doing for the doing itself. The arts and sports are typical sources of flow. What sets musics apart from all other sources of flow and self-other understandings is the unique materials and requirements of musics, namely sonic-musical events created and shared by and for others at specific times and places.
- Community. A key value of music, music sharing, and music education is community. Music connects us to those we engage with musically. There are numerous reasons for this. First, music making can be emotionally engaging and arousing. When I’m emotionally engaged, I’m likely to connect with those who are part of this emotional engagement. Also, I become in-sync with others. Being in-sync connects me to others I wouldn’t otherwise be connected with. Relationships form because of musical experiences, and a community is born. With that can come trust, care, commitment, fellowship, well-being, and so on. The value of community yields exponential dividends. However, this isn’t the only kind of community that music education yields. By engaging with musics written by and for others—for example, Mahler’s 1st Symphony, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Snow (Hey, Oh),” “Siyahamba,” or Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige—I can connect to people, places, and times far removed from my own here and now. That kind of time/space travel and communality is greatly rewarding.
- Happiness. A key value of musical engagement is happiness, or, stated differently, Aristotle’s notion of “human flourishing.” While some may think that happiness is a “soft” value like “fun,” it’s not. Happiness is the pursuit of a life well lived. Living well isn’t simplistic or easily achieved. So, when engaged in music making and sharing, we contribute to our life’s happiness. What more can be said about music and happiness? Perhaps it’s something only to be felt and experienced. So, listen, make, and engage – with, in, and through music.
So, to celebrate MIOSM®, allow yourself to know and feel that music education matters. Our profession matters when things in the world seem to be going smoothly. However, our profession matters even more when things in the world seem to be difficult and challenging. Indeed, when we engage in the teaching and learning of music, we provide avenues and pathways that can help our students to understand themselves and one another.
Great music making and listening provide important reminders for why we need to “show up” for each other each and every day. Let’s harness this world’s uncertainty and remember what’s important: Being present for each other. And music making, listening, and sharing can help us get there; we just need to be open to its numerous benefits.