Thoughts on Music-Making and Education
by Stephanie Judy as published in ARTiculate Magazine Fall/Winter issue 2012-2013
  Stephanie Judy

According to Sandra Trehub, director of the Music Development Laboratory at the University of Toronto, and the driving force behind Canadian research on musical perception, music is “innate, universal, and part of the human experience from a very early age.”

A web search for “benefits of music” reveals a huge body of research documenting positive effects of making music in every realm - social, intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual.

For example:
Students in schools with music programs cooperate better with teachers and peers, are better able to accept constructive criticism and show more self-confidence and higher academic achievement.
Teens report that playing music helps them control their emotions and cope more skillfully with difficult situations.
In adults, participation in musical activities enhances the immune system, with effects detectable at the cellular level.
Older adults who had music lessons in childhood have better memory skills and better overall brain function than those who never had lessons.
Skills gained through systematic music instruction align closely with those needed in the 21st-century workplace: self-discipline, problem solving, interpersonal communication and the ability to work cooperatively.

The key to the profound benefits listed above, though, is active music making, not just listening. Listening is enjoyable, but it is passive - an act of consuming rather than creating. Listening to music is like standing outside the garden gate, looking in.

Knowing how to make music - how to play an instrument or how to sing with confidence - gives you a key to the gate. You can let yourself in, and you can take (and contribute!) whatever you want.

A century ago, composer Thomas Surette, in a lovely book called Music and Life, said “I believe the world of music to be a true democracy. I am convinced that our chief need is to make music ourselves . . . that we are all more musical than we are thought to be; that we are more musical than we get the chance to be - of this there is no doubt whatsoever.”

Surette’s key idea is that we need to “make music ourselves”.

The puzzle is how to give everyone those skills - how to hand the key to that garden to everyone who would like to get in.

The ideal solution is to be born in to an intact traditional culture - a tribe, where everyone around you shares a common stock of songs and dances, where you are immersed in music from birth, where every event is celebrated with music that is made not by paid performers but by ordinary people.

A small minority of children in our own culture are fortunate enough to belong to a musically rich community - to grow up surrounded by parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who make music often, individually and together - where music making is normal part of everyday life. It’s like growing up with music as your native language.

For the rest - those who grow up in a music-limited background - any system of music education that we devise is going to be second best. We’re teaching a foreign language. However, if we do a blazingly good job, and if our students are still making music when they become parents, then their children will grow up in musically rich families.

That’s the music teacher’s pipe dream: that in the course of just one generation - if we put our hearts into it - we could turn a nation of passive listeners into active music makers.

Among musicians, a discussion about music education often spirals into dismay about how the public education system has abandoned music as an essential part of the curriculum.

For me, the evidence of a well-designed music curriculum in a school district shows up in its high schools. A school system with a coherent, effective music curriculum has, at the secondary school level, concert bands, jazz bands, symphony orchestras, mixed choirs, boys’ and girls’ glees and small ensembles such as chamber orchestras and madrigal singers.

Sadly, I know of few such examples in the Columbia Basin.

The education system must, indeed, do a better job at creating capable music makers, but I believe it is unfair to dump the whole responsibility in that one lap.

I think it’s time to have a discussion about how to create welcoming, affordable, and effective methods of giving musical skills to people of all ages - from young children to seniors.

This conversation needs to involve students, parents and musicians, we well as schools and universities, arts venues, social and health care agencies and every level of government.

The best way I know to draw people of all ages into active music making is through singing. The voice is the instrument that everyone has. It’s portable, and lends itself to every imaginable genre.

If I had a magic wand - if I could bring that pipe dream down to earth - I would wave into being innovative choral programs in the schools, grades K to 12, as well as in every venue where people gather - colleges, corporations, unions, seniors’ centres, scout halls, Legions, recreation centres and continuing education programs.

According to my old fiend, Thomas Surette, “If there is a means of interesting, delighting, and elevating a large number of people at a very small expense, by something by which they can all do together and which brings them all into sympathy with one another, and if the result of the cooperation is to produce something beautiful, is it not worth doing?”

Stephanie Judy is a musician, music educator and member of the Symphony of the Kootenays. She teaches Suzuki violin and viola in Nelson and Kaslo, and she is the author of Making Music for the Joy of It Tarcher Press, 1990.)

Contact us if you’re interested in singing lessons / voice coaching or piano lessons and music theory in Calgary to enjoy making your own music and start enjoying some of the many wonderful benefits of music making.

Patty Shortreed MSOD
1219 12 Street SW, Calgary AB CANADA T3C 3W9
403-229-9321       

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