Why study music? (a personal perspective from Mr. Wie)
"Why is being part of the orchestra program important?"
Each year when our families consider the wide array of elective courses available for their students to take here at our school, questions about long-term participation in the music program invariably arise. Often times, the answer will be to "just drop out" to make room for other activities. I too had to make this decision as a junior high and high school student. However, I would encourage everyone to consider the following:
1. Orchestras are a long-standing tradition in the arts.
The orchestra is a medium that has existed for hundreds of years, and spans a huge range of human expression, from the sacred (Bach's weekly cantatas for the Church), to the profane (Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring), to the triumph of the human spirit (Beethoven's Ninth Symphony "Ode to Joy"), to a reflection of unearthly beauty (Barber's Adagio for Strings), to the heights of exuberance (George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue), to things that challenge our perception of the world (Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony). To participate in orchestral music is to learn about and experience a rich and compelling aspect of our civilization's history. It includes creative work from people of all cultures, nations, and backgrounds.
When my students get really excited in orchestra class, it's usually because they really love a work of music that we've decided to try out. Many times, that work is something like John William's epic soundtracks to Star Wars or Harry Potter, or Michael Giachino's intricate and playful themes from Ratatouille and Up, and even works from the standard repertoire that they have recognized from film and television throughout their youth, like Mozart's serenade Eine Kleine Nacthmusik or Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. In order for them to understand how these composers have arrived at these works, we are able to go back in time so-to-speak and learn about the ideas that the great music creators and performers of the past have passed down through generations.
2. Music studies support all other areas of academic growth.
Time and time again, scientific studies have demonstrated that long-term studies in music contribute significantly to the comprehension of challenging concepts in fields like math and science. Starting at a young age, music students acquire a working knowledge of fractions, ration, proportions, and abstraction far in advance of their peers who do not have music instruction. We invite you to read about some of the research that has been conducted so far on this subject:
- National Association for Music Education
- Music Education Advocacy, Children's Music Workshop
- Why Arts Education is Crucial, Edutopia
3. Studying music is not about having a career in music.
We all play a sport at some time in our lives, but don't all expect to become professional athletes. We all learn to read and write, but don't all expect to become New York Times Bestselling authors. We all learn math and science, but don't all expect to become rocket scientists. In a similar vein, we should all learn to sing and/or play an instrument at some point in our lives, but that does not mean that we should all become professional musicians competing for jobs in a major Symphony Orchestra, on Broadway, or in the recording studio. While we will all eventually strive to reach planned goals in one or two areas that are our strengths and have a passion for, the benefit of the educational experience comes in having a diversity of interests.
I'm sure you've heard of or might have experienced some horror stories about fanatical music teachers bent on forcing every kid with even a scrap of musical ability to pursue an ill-advised career as a solo performer to the abandon of everything else. That's not what we do here!
While I direct the orchestras at St. Margaret's, I also commit time to teaching Computer Science and mentoring students for independent study in software development. For me, it is all about balance, and having the fullest range of experiences to help guide people into lives of learning, leadership, and service. Music just happens to be one important part!