How does music help prepare students for life? Ask all the prestigious doctors in Boston!
The Boston Globe has a fascinating piece by Christoph Westphal about the importance of music to becoming and being a doctor. Westphal, himself an amateur cellist and physician/scientist, recently went to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) welcoming its new conductor Andris Nelson. At the concert, he recognized a lot of physicians and scientists in the audience. It occurred to him that Boston is known as a world-class city in medicine and music. Was there an association?
Looking into this possible connection further, Westphal realized that many on the board of directors for the BSO were doctors. Then he learned that Alan Steere a Harvard Medical School professor had determined that 70 percent of doctors have had some musical training. In addition, in Longwood, a suburb of Boston, doctors even have their own symphony orchestra! (Here) The proceeds go to a variety of charities, and the musicians/physicians emphasize the “healing” power of music. Lisa Wong who is a doctor herself, is president of the orchestra and also wrote a book about this phenomenon called Scales to Scalpels: Doctors Who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine.
Lisa looked into the link between doctors and music. It seems that there are a lot of similarities. An example of being a surgeon is given. Like surgery, doctors must be precise, breaking things down and then repetitively rebuilding and incorporating the emotional side of the process.
To be honest, The Boston Globe article had criticism involving wealth and the dislike for pretentiousness. But my focus is on the meaning of music not just for doctors but for all children. If music is so important to doctors, how important is it to young people growing-up and learning about the world around them? Musical training should not be just for those who have wealth, music should be for the poor as well.
And yet for decades now, public schools have been cutting music programs, especially in poor schools, or replacing those classes with dull test preparation. How many students who missed out on real music classes, like band, never found their inspiration to become_______? How many students have failed, when a music class could have given them support or provided just the right ingredient to motivate them in school?
In obsessively attempting to manage and observe every part of the learning process, today’s ed. reformers callously dismiss the kind of learning that isn’t exactly measurable, but, which research shows, definitely improves learning!
While some places provide public-private partnerships to give students some awareness of music, these programs rely on the charity of others. They provide programs that might not be around tomorrow. Nor do they always place a credentialed teacher at the head of music classes.
Public schools need more than an occasional music appreciation class, or some free market fly-by-night substitute program. They need consistent, time-honored programs that will be there year-to-year to assist students in playing real music!
I liked the Boston article because it demonstrates the importance of music to highly educated individuals who do a great thing in their world, fixing us up when we are broken and healing us when we are ill. The fact that music helped them get to where they are today is a sure sign of the importance of music for students.
And music doesn’t have to lead you to a career in medicine. Music can lead students to a wide variety of other highly regarded careers. Who can forget the wonderful scene in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus where the governor shows up at the end. She had been Mr. Holland’s former clarinet student, a shy girl who struggled to play her instrument over difficult odds. Of course, this is a movie. But students do develop self-confidence in programs like this.
Music can also be a career in and of itself. (Here) Music can help anyone, no matter their vocation, be a better person and focus on life more clearly. It is well-known that music helps many students in math.
I also don’t think it is any longer necessary to provide study after study that emphasizes the importance of music to learning. We don’t need more research to tell us what we already know. Students in our care deserve and require music education. Music helps children learn in other subjects and it provides some variety in schooling. As a former flute player in my high school band, I can personally tell you, music matters.
We need to return music programs to public schools, or if you are lucky and still have those programs, you need to see to it that your school district does not drop them.
Every student in America, through their public schools, should have the opportunity to learn to play an instrument, sing, dance and/or do art or act. It should not be through a nonprofit someone sets up on a whim. It should be a consistent offering, a part of a free public school system…like it used to be, but better!
Westphal, Christoph. “Boston’s Prominence in Medicine, Music Isn’t an Accident.” The Boston Globe. August 9, 2014.