Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Keeping Faith In Music

With many schools eliminating the funding for all their art programs, especially music, this latest study linking reading skills to musical literacy may strike just the right note for keeping faith in the value of music to the life of a child:

Children tutored in music involving progressively complex rhythmic, tonal and practical skills display superior reading skills than their peers, according to a new study.
[Joseph M. Piro and Camilo Ortiz from Long Island University] investigated the hypothesis that children (in two elementary schools) who have received keyboard instruction as part of a music curriculum that becomes progressively difficult over the years, would demonstrate significantly better performance on vocabulary and verbal sequencing than students who did not receive keyboard instruction.
Several studies have reported positive associations between music education and increased abilities in non-musical (linguistic, mathematical, and spatial) domains in children.
The authors said there are similarities in the way individuals interpret music and language and “because neural response to music is a widely distributed system within the brain…. It would not be unreasonable to expect that some processing networks for music and language behaviours, namely reading, located in both hemispheres of the brain would overlap.”
Using a quasi-experimental design, the investigators selected second-grade children from two school sites located in the same geographic vicinity and with similar demographic characteristics, to ensure the two groups of children were as similar as possible apart from their music experience.
Children in the intervention school studied piano formally for a period of three consecutive years as part of a comprehensive instructional intervention program.
Children attending control school received no formal musical training on any musical instrument and had never taken music lessons as part of their general school curriculum or in private study.
Both schools followed comprehensive balanced literacy programmes that integrate skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening.
All participants were individually tested to assess their reading skills at the start and close of a standard 10-month school year using the Structure of Intellect (SOI) measure, said a Long Island University release.
Results analysed at the end of the year showed that the music-learning group had significantly better vocabulary and verbal sequencing scores than did the non-music-learning control group.

There comes an age when children listen to their childish efforts at music and suddenly hear it all with new ears, causing many of them to declare, "Hey, I'm not really a good musician"; this fresh insight leads them to abandon their flutes and pianos for other things, as it might with their singing, with their painting, with their writing... with most of their acts of creation.

It seems a rite of passage into adulthood, to assess one's abilities as "amateurish", and therefore so second-rate that their very existence is a threat against our adult pose as "professional" experts at living. Who will take us seriously, if they hear our amateurish attempts at music, if they see our amateurish approach to creativity itself?

Once upon a time, the word "amateur" was not the sour note it tends to be thought of today. In its original, literal definition, to be an "amateur" means simply to be "a lover of something"... in French, it still retains this old-fashioned sense of the term, as we would say that I'm an "amateur de baseball", a lover of baseball. My skill has no relation to my passion.

I think one of the reasons that adolescents tend to be so cynical, so nihilistic in their point of view, is that there is not enough effort placed on convincing them to stay in love with life. They've left so much behind, all they can see is the hole that such abandonment brings; no wonder they wear black, I'd be in mourning too if I felt I had left so much of my previous life behind me.

The amateur's passion they once may have felt when devoting themselves for hours to their various acts of creation, especially playing music, is a romance worth remembering, and renewing. The courage needed to create new things comes partially from the childlike faith that our personal accomplishments can actually make a genuine difference in the world around us. As adults, our supposedly heightened powers of observation often end up obscuring that which is most important to perceive: it pays to have faith, to stretch our perspective so that it sees the single note of the present in the context of an overall melody of moments, especially those to come. That which we are today, is not necessarily all that we ever will be: we are creations forever in the process of becoming.

It's a lesson renewed by the experience of parenthood, probably the ultimate example of amateurism. That first time where a parent cradles their new-born baby, and takes inventory of their creation: what is there to see, except the fog of a far-off future? The little, tiny hands, inexpert at the simplest of tasks. The closed eyes, not yet able to register much of anything in their orbit. The probing mind, not yet aware of even what questions there are to ask about the world it's entered into. And yet from parental love springs the faith to perceive the hoped-for symphony, that the hand, the eyes and the mind that orchestrates this harmonious duet will someday truly make a difference.

It takes a lifetime to practice this art, so why not start as early and as often as possible, especially by keeping faith in the blessing that making music may bring to the life of a child.

1 comment:

truepeers said...

The link between esthetic skill and linguistic skill is illustrated in interesting ways by this story

As you rightly note Charles, behind both skills must be a faith or passion that is motivated by simple love for our shared being.