16-01 Segment 1: Music Education: Benefits in all areas of study

 

Synopsis: Many schools are cutting back or cutting out music education because of funding restraints. Is this a good idea? What do music and the other arts bring to a child’s overall education and development? We talk to two arts experts and some students about the value of music education in a child’s life, and hear from some students about their experiences playing and studying music in and out of school.

Host: Gary Price. Guests: Rachel White-Hunt, Curriculum Fellow for the Juilliard-Nord Anglia Performing Arts Programme and Director of Music at the British International School of Chicago – South Loop; Diane Persellin, Professor of Music Education at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX; Santiago Oskandy, Vanya Lazarevic, and Rachel Spahn, students at the British International School of Chicago – South Loop.

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Music & Arts Education: Benefits in all areas of study

(Piano piece)

Gary Price: It’s a normal school day, and in a small rehearsal room Drew is practicing her Beethoven.

(Trumpet)

Price: Next door, Ian warms up on his trumpet. There are other students there waiting to play the drums, piano, brass – even the ukulele. These students are part of a program at the British International School of Chicago, South Loop – or BISC – that integrates music and the arts into the curriculum for all students – from nursery to high school. While many schools across the country are having to cut back or eliminate music, drama, art and dance classes because of budget constrictions, The British International Schools throughout North America and the world have expanded their program, entering into a partnership with the world-famous Juilliard conservatory. But aside from teaching a child to play an instrument, sing, dance or paint, do the arts help them in other areas of study? Do they contribute substantially to their overall academic success and success in life? We spoke to two music educators and some students to find out. Rachel White-Hunt is a Curriculum Fellow for the Juilliard-Nord Anglia Performing Arts Programme and Director of Music at BISC. She says that their students grow up with the arts, and that participating in them throughout their school years helps to sharpen their thought processes in other areas…

Rachel White-Hunt: We want our students to feel a 100-percent confident in creating and exploring ideas, concepts, making links, and that style of learning about the arts then just transfers into everything, you know. You’re being taught to think very, very differently. And that skill is something they can then transfer into all their learning.

Price: In fact, research shows that the brain acts differently when a child is exposed to music…

Diane Persellin: The creative arts, music, dance and aerobic activity all have the ability to improve executive functions such as decision-making skills, and intelligence linked to academic performance.

Price: That’s Diane Persellin, Professor of Music Education at Trinity University in San Antonio…

Persellin: But nothing activates as many areas of the brain as music. We have some great research including a study at Dartmouth that confirmed that music has a greater effect than any other stimulus to enhance connections between the brain’s right and left hemispheres, as well as the areas where memories and emotions develop. So actively participating in music experience helps enhance these connections. And these music experiences can change the brain which has to help executive function.

Price: For several of the students at BISC, music education has helped them in a number of their classes. Vanya is 14 years old and plays the piano…

Vanya Lazarevic: I think that playing an instrument, it basically exercises your brain. I guess you see many different aspects of the same thing. The same way you analyze music, you can analyze history, or an English piece. It’s just kind of gives you that extra practice that you need.

Price: She says that Juilliard alumni mentors help with individualized instruction and also come to their classes and challenge students to listen to a piece not just as it’s traditionally played, but in different styles and on different instruments…

Vanya Lazarevic: Andrew, one of the mentors from Juilliard, he taught us how to delve more into the music, offering us another angle from how we’re originally taught. For example, we were given a Bach piece and he played a version on double bass and he gave us a score and asked us how we could interpret it differently. And the way we interpreted it and the he played our markings suggested that the same piece of music can have so many different moods.

Price: Thirteen-year-old Rachel is learning to play the ukulele, an instrument that is becoming more popular these days. She says that Andrew also helped students in one of her non-arts classes…

Rachel Spahn: He came into our Spanish class, so we did some cross-curricular activities. We sang a song in Spanish about our topic, so vacation, and he added a Cuban bass line with his double bass, so we got to be exposed to that culture and include it in our song, which helped us develop the cross-curricular activity.

Price: Finding the right instrument for a student who is interested in playing isn’t always the one they think they want a the beginning. Santiago is 15 and plays the piano and the alto saxophone. He says he came to the sax through a collaboration between himself and his teacher…

Santiago Oskandy: So we got like three choices. So I think I chose trombone, saxophone and the drums. So out of those three choices the teacher chooses which one you’re going to play. So I got the saxophone, right? And so I wasn’t very convinced that I could be a good saxophone player when I first started. But as I went through the program I just, I now have a love for the saxophone and I appreciate it so much more than I used to.

Price: Even the youngest students at BISC are challenged. You might think that anything outside of the latest Disney cartoon hit would be over the heads of four-year-olds, but Rachel White-Hunt says that you’d be surprised at how they learn to appreciate sophisticated works and different genres…

White-Hunt: There is the learning of basic music concepts, you know when you’re that little you kind of have to understand pitch, you have to be able to control your voice, you know you’re talking fine motor skills. But that’s all wrapped around this idea that they are most certainly able to learn through exploring these wonderful pieces of music. So a couple of weeks ago they were dancing to Stravinsky and they all very naturally did very angular movements. So then there was kind of, not even discussion but just a learning point about what are those angular movements? You know, what does that look like in music? Beethoven’s Fifth, we’re exploring that interval, yump bum-bum-buuum, and we’ve got the Beethoven game. The (Thelonious) Monk, just improvisation even at that age, they can certainly sing their ideas or tap out rhythms. So it’s about using that at an age-appropriate level. And the wonderful thing about nursery kids is they’re completely unbiased. No one’s told them what’s cool to listen to. They have no label. They’ll listen to Stravinsky, they’ll listen to Britney Spears, and they hear what they hear and they will tell you the absolute truth, and that leads to some amazing teaching opportunities for them.

Price: Although kids like to listen to music, not all of them are anxious to take lessons or join a choir. Persellin says that it often takes time for a shy child to feel comfortable in a “performance” environment…

Persellin: I’ve had some young students who wouldn’t even participate in class they were so shy. They just kind of listened. But I hear, on the way home I’m told from their parents, they sing all the way home in the car and all around the house. So these are called reflective learners, reflective listeners, and they may take a little longer to warm up to the idea of playing or singing in class. And I think music teachers at all levels, not just those who work with young children, they really need to create a safe space for making music to encourage children to be comfortable making music. And once children develop this comfort to make music and they’re immersed in the experience, then they’re often more willing to share their music with others. But I think that comfort level needs to be developed.

Price: White-Hunt has had that experience herself with a student who was convinced she didn’t want to participate in the arts program…

White-Hunt: In September, yup, this year 10 walks in and the first statement is, “Miss, don’t do this. I’m not an arts person.” And I hear that, I’ve been teaching nearly 12 years now, I hear that so much. Or I hear stories of adults who didn’t have a good experience and it just shut them off from even daring to be creative. And this student spent three weeks in our program, and very, very slowly she started to dip her toe in the water, started to get involved, engaged, started to feel this sort of environment where it was safe to create. And now she is one of our key cast in our musical, West Side Story. And, I mean if we’d have told her that that day she walked through the door, I can tell you now she would have just said, “Not a chance. That will never be me.” I really think that sort of embodies what is happening here, and shows the importance of it. That’s opened up a whole new door to that student.

Price: Building confidence in a student and allowing them to make something that is truly personal and artistic certainly helps them later in life when they communicate at work and are asked to create innovative processes and products. But with budget cuts in many districts, is it feasible for every school to have a music program? Both Persellin and White-Hunt say that it doesn’t have to be expensive…

Persellin: Once one has a strong, certified music educator one can build a strong program around that music educator. I don’t think we need a lot of resources for a strong elementary music program, but one can also invest a lot of money in high-quality elementary drums, a xylophone instruments, ukuleles, keyboards, guitars and iPads, so it can be more costly. But I don’t think it has to be. For a choir program you’ll need a keyboard, some kind of a piano, and some sheet music, usually, but you don’t need to spend a lot of money beyond that music teacher and a keyboard. A band and an orchestra program, they’re more of an investment because you need more instruments.

White-Hunt: The whole emphasis of this program is about being inspired. And all you really need at its bare minimum is the ability to listen to music, to talk about music, and to create an environment where your students feel safe. You can compose using buckets and some drumsticks, you know you can compose literally using different taps on your body. The emphasis is on listening, exposing students to all different types of music, talking about it and creating an environment where they feel safe to create themselves, and look back at that and say, “Well, why does that sound like that? What does it remind you of?” So I think there is a place, I know there is a place, a very important place for music education in all schools. And it’s just about helping music teachers in America and around the world understand what that looks like in their school.

Price: Perhaps the question shouldn’t be, “Can we afford to have a music program?” but rather, “For the sake of our students, can we afford not to have one?” You can find out more about Rachel White-Hunt, the British International School of Chicago-South Loop and the Juilliard-Nord Anglia Performing Arts Programme there and in schools around the world by visiting their website at NordAngliaeducation.com. For more information on Diane Persellin and the Trinity University music education program, log onto their site at New.Trinity.edu. To learn more about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpointsonline.net. You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. I’m Gary Price.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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