Queen in the Palace of Learning
If I sat as Queen in the palaces of learning, all children would study music as the first priority of education.
Not because every student is going to become a professional musician, but because the study of music builds and coordinates both the body and the brain, optimizing and readying a child for greater success in all other educational endeavors.
Crazy you say? Isn’t music simply an extra-curricular activity? Aren’t the arts mere entertainment, a distraction from the “real world” of STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math)? Isn’t music only for the talented?
These and other myths keep countless children from realizing their full potential. They are based on a faulty view of the performing arts and of child development.
Music is not simply for the talented - it’s for everyone!
Allow me to paint a picture for you.
Imagine a Kingdom where every individual had an artistic voice and could compose and tell their story with such riveting artistic skill that the world would clamor to hear.
No longer would the domain of the arts be domineered by a handful of “superstars”, but every community would bloom with indigenous artistic color. We would all take joy to be the audience and to witness the innovation first hand.
Instead of heading to Vegas, or Nashville, LA, or New York City, the caravans would pool toward places like Frogville or Zafra, my home-corner - (to call it a town would be overstepping.)
In such a world, the new born child moves front and center, and from birth to Kindergarten, she would listen to music, singing and dancing along with a child’s usual uninhibited joy.
Then, in elementary school, grades 1 through 4, she would continue those happy musical practices while adding the playing of an instrument, one sized to fit her little hands. She would have a 30 minute lesson in her chosen instrument twice a week, and she would participate in a small group practice session for one hour each day at school with her peers.
There would be no comparisons or jealousies. Instead, each child would encourage the other, and caregivers would take copious notes in order to participate in hearty practice sessions at home.
Now the child begins to spend time onstage.
She would be led in movement, learning to embody the rhythm and emotion of the music. Music is not 2+2=4. It is Geometry and Physics. She is learning what happens between and around the notes, how the phrases land, down or up, heavy or light, how the line of melody rises and soars or crashes downward to dark despair.
She is learning of life and how to swaddle all the bumps in the buffer of imagination.
Enter: books. She would learn to read music at the same time she learns to read books. With the instillation of these two pillars, the reading of books and the artistic sense of musical rhythm and emotion, a lifetime of learning is set to thrive.
At the age of 10, when she graduates to middle school, 5th through 8th grades, she would be a fluent book and music reader, a top-notch player and singer, and a savvy and fearless performer who can communicate persuasively and with skill.
Here she expands her abilities by adding additional instruments, perhaps one that dove-tails with her first. She begins to write songs, lyrics and music, pulled from her life experiences.
Her peers enjoy listening and she enjoys the interaction. Her music is innate and natural, like breathing or speaking. It doesn’t have to go away to make time for other interests.
Now comes the high school years, grades 9 through 12. It is a time when the brain begins to cull unused synapses and to build new ones according to lines of study.
For students who have been marinating in the world of music, this season is particularly telling. For a young musician, their neurological pathways are more engaged, and thus, they will not be culled, leaving the young musicians’ brain heavier, denser, and more connected than that of their non-musical peers.
These pathways will remain throughout life.
Furthermore, there is no need for the arts to vie with sports, because the greatest demands of time and money were invested back in elementary school, when sports were secondary to real learning. She is already a mature musician and easily turns her highly functioning mind to any other pursuit.
Perhaps she has chosen medicine as her life’s occupation.
She is now ready to delve into the lab with all her heart. Her music will help her as she seeks to focus her mind on difficult questions.
But all the while she is studying medicine, she also stands fluent and functional in the performing arts, able to play an instrument and sing, to compose for, and lead, a music group. The school orchestra, the marching band, the choir, the a cappella group, thrive because of the cumulative power of this creativity and skill.
She begins to take leadership outside her school too, assembling community bands or playing in chamber groups; proposes new creative ideas in every area of her life and knows how to collaborate.
And she is not alone.
See how well all the whiz-kids in the math department play their instruments! Hear how well the football team sings.
Music is the pervasive undergirding of their lives, and they are bonded because of the oxytocin it pumps into each one’s bloodstream. It tells them how they fit together as human beings and gives them feelings of generosity and good will toward one another.
Notice how the quarterback is the best the school has ever had. He can throw a football with extraordinary precision because of the visuospatial skills music has wired between his eye and his arm. And the running back has an uncanny sense of timing and rhythm, his name’s not Jack, but he is nimble and quick all the same.
The advanced math and science classes are full.
Music has already taught them the abstract thinking skills they require. Students clamor for placement on these competitive teams too, their heads whirring with experimental proofs and abstract calculations. They are clever and creative, exactly the combo an employer in the age of Google is looking for.
The poetry club has filled the trophy case.
The drama class is writing and producing an original play.
The rigor of the debate team rivals that of the sports teams, tomorrow’s politicians and lawyers, young people who mastered the art of the verbal pivot during their time on the performance stage at the age of seven.
Math, Science, Language, Sports, the Arts, all soar to a higher, more advanced level of acumen when the music-muscled mind engages.
For music demands the use of all parts of the brain simultaneously and in coordination. That’s good news for a young child, because this engagement of the synapses—all one thousand trillion of them — builds a broad-band connection that plows paths of innovation for a lifetime.
As jobs are increasingly claimed by A.I., employers will increasingly search for workers who can do something robots can’t. Those who think creatively, who wield active imaginations and have the performance and interpersonal skills to communicate to people - these are the leaders of the future.
The successful study of music develops just such Creators. And that word, successful is the fulcrum on which this thesis pivots. Music is best learned early, with the child being required to focus for an increasing period of time.
Many music-study testimonies are tales of woe, lessons abandoned early for lack of practice or waning interest. Of incompetent teachers and pitiful programs that spit out students who can hardly read their music, much less notate in order to compose or orchestrate or perform.
Many students thrive in the early years but, as they grow, cannot find a social context for their music, and so lose interest and poco a poco give it up.
This is why music education also must change and begin to prioritize community and creativity as well as technique. We were not created to be solitary geniuses dreaming up some new invention or composition for our own glory.
We were meant to commune with one another.
What about those who don’t go on to become musical pros?
We did not fail!
Those who use their music as a hobby will live with the sweet understanding that their work in science, math, language arts, and public forums, are forever blessed from their time in music. These music-hobbyists carry enhanced visuospatial skills, they wield a surgical knife, throw a football, race a car, or sing to the baby with exceptional expertise.
Parents and educators may enjoy knowing that their work built brains that are forever fatter, heavier, and smarter, more capable of advanced abstract thought and more broadly connected than they would have been had they never studied music.
Here is the gospel truth: music transforms children. It moves the heart, opens the mind, shapes the brain, and unlocks the voice of a young person. Music is not just for the talented. On the contrary, it is for the un-talented! It’s for the child afraid to speak publicly, the child who struggles with hand-eye coordination, the child who enters a room and hides, unsure that they “fit in”.
God made music for us. It’s time we rediscover its power and the beauty in the shining eyes of our children.