The Gift of Music

Thursday, March 31st, 2016 at 12:44 am

by Sam Glaser

When I started out in music my primary motivation was to get my songs heard. That primal urge to offer shelter to the melodic offspring of my subconscious led me to open a recording studio, assemble bands, learn theory, practice the piano and take voice lessons. A byproduct of the career that this passion invoked is a desire to offer a path to young musicians who are wrestling with their musical inclinations. Establishing mentorship programs, music retreats and choral and instrumental ensembles is all part of this effort. As a militant music advocate I maintain that basic music education is a crucial part of any modern school curriculum. Somehow that truth seems lost on American administrators, especially in Jewish day schools. When something has to be cut to accommodate shrinking budgets it’s usually not math and English; presently music education in both public and private schools is missing in action or at best, piecemeal.

I grew up in a public Jr. and Sr. high school environment with three full time music teachers. One dedicated to orchestra and band, one to choirs and the third to musical theater and drama. I interfaced with all of them at varying points and always had a home base of dedicated fellow nerd musicians with whom I could hang out. We were offered the chance to perform, to broaden our musical horizons and to have wholesome fun pursuing a craft we enjoyed. We could rent any instrument we wanted to try and felt both camaraderie and competition with fellow players when seeking the best “chair” in the ensemble. I got to be a soloist with Madrigals, got to share my new songs I had written with Concert Choir, played the king in The King and I and Pharaoh in Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. Obviously none of this would have happened without a music program. I am who I am thanks to these great teachers, especially Carole Kasier, Linda Badran and Joel Lish at Paul Revere and Palisades High.

My own children, on the other hand enjoyed a sporadic half hour weekly singing experience in their Jewish elementary school led by yours truly. That minimal musical exposure tapered down to nothing at all at the middle school level. And this was at a large, popular Beverly Hills-based institution. For the annual fundraising banquet the school would schedule a few rehearsals and put the reluctant student body on risers to sing a selection of cacophonous numbers for their doting parents. I’ve observed that the emphasis on music for any given day school is inversely proportional to the degree of religiosity. All this from the people that brought the world the Song of Songs, King David’s Psalms and the art of Betzalel. In our LA Jewish high school there would have been absolutely no music program had I not taken a personal stand and initiated jazz/rock bands for both the boys and girls campuses. You can imagine the sorry state of these bands since there is no pre-high school instrumental music program in any of the feeder schools. That said, I take my job seriously and by year’s end am able to whip them into functioning bands with full concert-length sets that we perform for the community.

Even those students not destined to a career in music benefit immeasurably from music programs. According to the National Association for Music Education, music training enhances the development of language and reasoning, builds memorization capability, increases hand-eye coordination and perhaps most importantly, offers students a sense of achievement that can engender a lifetime of confidence and success. I find the students in my own ensembles have to transition from solo players to musicians in a band. This requires the crucial skill of teamwork, supporting peers that are differently abled and learning how to keep the “groove” even in the tough parts of the song. They acquire a sense of discipline in order to master their instrument on top of their demanding dual curriculum. Also, I’ve noticed that my students have learned to become risk takers. They have been compelled to reach beyond their perceived limits, trying things like taking solos or performing in unfamiliar genres. Clearly there is more taking place than learning a few notes on a page.

Last year I spent a few weeks performing in Australia and saw a fantastic model of music
education and its impact on the community. I managed to squeeze in concerts in four schools, three synagogues and participate in two major conferences. Everywhere I went music was the centerpiece of the experience rather than the afterthought. Each one of the schools offered a more awe inspiring, successful arts programs than I could ever imagine. Clearly the private institutions are in competition with the public schools to offer the best education not only in academics but also the arts. The net result is a musically intelligent society that values creativity and the full breadth of musical expression. Australians have made music a priority not necessarily to bolster the ranks of symphony-level performers but instead to raise the creative sparks of the populace. I witnessed a city of light and dreams…and that wasn’t just because I was there during the Vivid Sydney light/music week!

We live in an interconnected world where we must equip our young people to appreciate more than cold academics. We must inspire them to combine art into their technology, creativity into their commerce, humanity into their relationships. Don’t stand idly by while your local administration slashes the arts. Sponsor charities like Charity Music and Education Through Music. May America embrace arts education so that we can be proud of our creatively literate population and the cultural renaissance that will ensue.

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