As the pandemic turned schools upside down and educational programs took a hit, music programs nationwide faced troubles.
It wasn’t the first time music education had been trimmed back in many schools. As schools reevaluate their budgets year after year, music and the performing arts are often on the chopping block. But it’s music that can sometimes be the answer, the path for these children, towards something bigger.
I grew up in a family of musicians. I had a diverse diet of music and was fortunate enough to take private percussion lessons starting at age 5. I was the section leader of the drum line in high school and later at Howard, which had given me a music scholarship. Music was a real outlet and tool for me and my peers.
Studies have shown the benefits of music education: It not only creates musical skills, but also helps students develop proficiencies in regular academics. The connection between music education and stronger reading and math proficiency, enhanced verbal and language skills, stronger fine motor skills and auditory discriminations has been well researched. Schools that offered music education had higher graduation rates, attendance rates and standardized test scores. Music students learn to appreciate music and to express themselves; in many cases, they find a social group of similar-minded peers. Especially in urban areas, it reduces truancy and the hours young people spend on the streets.
"The long-term outcome is one that follows a journey of developing discipline and self-esteem, resulting in becoming a better student and a high school graduate."
If we placed as much emphasis on music education as we do on sports, we’d be able to create another option for kids to excel. When you think about how sports scholarships often give opportunities to athletes, why not do the same with music? Young people need something to keep them focused and grounded, and sometimes music can be an entry point into higher learning.
During the pandemic, it became evident that children needed meals more than clarinet lessons in some communities. And many struggled to find Wi-Fi and bandwidth to keep up with their classes, let alone a music lesson. But music education is not so much an anchor as it is a sail. We cannot be so myopic about its value. On the contrary, we need to reimagine its value proposition in the community and recognize how much it can intrinsically change a child for the better, as much as any other academic or athletic achievement.
To become artistically excellent takes time and grit. We should applaud children when they perform their music, whether it’s amazing or substandard. It’s about the effort, the dedication and discipline to even get to that point. How we evaluate the short-, intermediate- and long-term outcomes of a music education matters. If a child can find middle C on a piano after a week, that’s a short-term accomplishment demonstrating the child’s aptitude has already improved. The long-term outcome is one that follows a journey of developing discipline and self-esteem, resulting in becoming a better student and a high school graduate. Music can effect that kind of change.
Jeffery Tribble, Jr. is the president and CEO of Levine Music in the greater Washington, D.C. region and founder of The MusicianShip. Both organizations provide music lessons, performances, experiences and opportunities.