We know that the study of music has the power to positively affect a child’s social and academic development. We know that active participation in music can stimulate the brain in ways that no other form of education can. Time and time again, we have heard that playing an instrument unlocks creativity and innovative thinking, as well as improving comprehension and language skills.
What do we do about the reality that music education is not accessible in many schools across this country, and that it’s not a priority in many others? The bottom line is that music is universal, is magical and is omnipresent. How can we not be curious about it? Would we want to live in a world without it? Why would we be OK with schools not having music?1
Organizations like the D’Addario Foundation are aware of the power of music, and we’re harnessing it by nurturing the development of private-sector, not-for-profit music-education programs in schools where music barely exists—or doesn’t exist at all—and where kids cannot afford to take lessons on their own. Those unassuming programs have a much grander vision than just to encourage children to participate in music, though. The programs are catalysts for positive social change, planting their feet firmly into a community and committing completely. In such cases, music education is the vehicle…the draw…what makes the magic happen. It’s the elements beyond strumming a chord or singing a note, however, that are extraordinary. And that’s where the true power lies.
It’s what happens when you give kids a place to belong every day after school. You give them a snack; you give them help with homework; you give them guidance; you give them the ability to become a mentor; you give them safety. You give them hope. Those programs are proving to have the power to lift human aspirations, to elevate quality of life and to strengthen communities. And it’s all through music.
In a New York Times article, “Is Music the Key to Success?,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joanne Lipman, she observes, “Look carefully and you’ll find musicians at the top of almost any industry.” Music can help make you a Nobel Prize winner, an Oscar-winning director or a hedge fund billionaire. Google Co-Founder Larry Page, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Condoleezza Rice, Jack Dorsey, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg…all of them attribute their success to actively studying music in their childhood. Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen once said, “Music reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.” Allen began playing the violin at age seven, and he switched to the guitar as a teenager.2
Music education has incredible power, and the proof is there. Ninety-six percent of students in many of these community-based programs are graduating on time and attending college, despite residing in some of the poorest neighborhoods in our country, where graduation rates can hover at or below 50 percent. Many of the students represent the first generation in their family to attend college. Access to intensive music training has greatly increased punctuality, as well as having improved academic achievement. The rate of attendance of some of the daily music-training programs exceeds 90 percent. Participating students in many programs are involved for an average of seven years. Can you imagine the abundance of power you would have if you were able to overcome the challenges you faced early in life? Active participation in music via community-based programs gives kids that power. It’s the ability to defy odds, attend college and succeed in life.
Recently, I had an experience visiting a community program. I observed a classroom full of special-needs students and one teacher trying to manage the entire class. I watched the teacher, who was multi-tasking and who had a guitar around her neck, quietly walk over to a student who was sitting at a drum kit, and who looked physically scared and unsure. She began to tap the beat very gently on the student’s shoulder. As she did so, you could see the color flow back into the boy’s face and, slowly, as he replicated the rhythm he now felt in his body, he smiled. What that student learned was much more than keeping a beat. He learned that he mattered. He learned that someone cared enough to believe in him. He learned that he belonged. He learned that he was capable. Imagine the power in that one small moment!
What is most undeniable—and what I have had the privilege of witnessing when visiting many community-based music programs—is that the students who have participated for a period of time have a joyous fire in their eyes…a fire that suggests the universe has no limits. In a complicated world, the children who are given opportunity through compassion, fortitude and dedication are the ones who are empowered to change that world. They are the kids who will become compassionate healers, guides, problem solvers, peacemakers and musicians.
There’s nothing more heartwarming than to see children with that power, and there’s nothing more beautiful than using music as a powerful agent for positive change.
Suzanne D’Addario Brouder is Director of the D’Addario Foundation.
1 Peter Greene (2015) “Stop Defending Music Education,” The Huffington Post
2 Joanne Lipman (2013) “Is Music the Key to Success?,” The New York Times