Music in the News

Cory NevilleUncategorized

I haven’t updated the blog in several months….Being a news junkie, I have seen several pieces in the news about music or music education that I’ve been thinking about how I could synthesize into one cohesive blog post.  The problem is that there have been so many neat little articles about things related to music education that trying to cram all of the info into one blog post just isn’t going to happen.

So, I’ve decided instead to provide you with a string of links to articles that have caught my eye lately.  Underneath each article link, there’s a brief summary, I pull a quote or two from the article and give my two-cents…..Happy reading!



Summary: Oppenheimer expresses his view that his daughter Rebekah’s violin lessons are “pointless,” which is fine because “hobbies are all the better for having no point beyond the fun they provide.”  He also says that the “claims for the utility of music and dance lessons…are, I think, unfounded and overblown.”

Quote: The main purpose of arts education is to preserve the arts: “…For such art forms to persist, it is only necessary that the most eager and gifted students persist in their studies.”

My take: Music education is not offered in schools because of its value as a hobby–it has educational value.  Sure, music is a popular hobby for many, but so is reading, satisfying a fascination with a foreign culture through language study, and becoming a history buff.  All perfectly “pointless” hobbies.

Oppenheimer thinks that the claims made about music education are “overblown,” but ironically, he cites absolutely no sources to prove this claim.  On the contrary, the music education field has decades of published brain research on its side–it is absolutely conclusive and unquestioned that music studies lead to better brain development in children.

The idea that we should only worry about “the most eager and gifted” students in the arts persisting in their studies is elitist at best.  2500 years ago, the ancient Greeks knew that music was an essential study in shaping the whole person (including it in their secondary curriculum known as the “quadrivium”), in 1838, the Boston School Committee knew that music was essential for every student (long before music was being used to “acculturate immigrants” as Oppenheimer writes in the article as a way of trying to demonstrate music’s educational value as being a relic of the past), and schools across the country know that music is essential today.

I do agree with Oppenheimer on one point–his title.  Insisting on music study in school is appropriate, but not every kid is a performer.  Some would rather learn how music works, how to write music, learn what to listen for in different genres, etc.  At the end of a curriculum re-write with the Arts Education Collaborative, the QV music department has come up with some great new electives in the middle school and high school to address these different interests within music.



Summary: A direct response to the previous article, Berman makes the case for mandatory music study by defending what he sees are the virtues of classical music.

Quote: “…I do think that classical music is, in some respects, bigger than other kinds of music.  The music has been going on for five hundred years as a self-conscious tradition…”

My take: While I’m sure music teachers everywhere were appreciative of Berman’s defense, he also shows a little bias and stereotyping here.  Music doesn’t have to be “classical” to educate students and classical is no better than any other style of music.  There is good and bad classical music just as there is good and bad rock, good and bad jazz, good and bad hip-hop, good and bad Indian raga, etc.

Music teachers are not out to indoctrinate students into classical or any other genre.  Classical music just happens to work well within the educational environment for a couple of reasons.  First, unlike some genres of popular music which some students take or leave completely regardless of the good and bad within that genre, in classical, there is something for almost everybody.  While classical is not the most popular single style of music, it is the biggest in the sense that it has the widest variety within the style and that chances are better everyone will find something to like.  Second, classical styles are the most conducive to large ensembles, which in turn are the most conducive to large numbers of student participants (If we had a rock band class, what do you do when out of the 15 kids who sign up, you get nine drummers, 4 guitarists, a singer, and a kid who just likes AC/DC?  Sure, the initial novelty of the class gets kids to sign up, but once they’re there, not everybody gets to participate like they thought they would).  I’m not saying we should stick to just teaching classical–as much as I can, I try to find alternative music selections that are appropriate for our large ensembles, and we are always brainstorming ways to reach students through music outside of the large ensemble classes that are currently offered.  I just don’t think it’s the best defense to imply classical is better than other music–it’s not.  It just might be better for educating students through music.  Might.



Summary: The final article in this trio of back and forth articles, Oppenheimer responds to Berman’s response and apologizes by saying that so many people did not get what he was trying to say that he has “to acknowledge the fault was in (his) writing, and not in their reading.”  He re-states his case by questioning the relevancy and difficulty of teaching classical music to students.

Quotes: “Many music teachers, and parents, believe that there is something special, better, about the classical and art-music tradition.”

“Given how relatively easy it is to get a little bit competent on, say, guitar, enough to lead a camp sing-along, why do we start so many children on harder instruments, bound to seem less relevant to their lives?”

My take: These are fair enough points, but he has still has some false assumptions.  He assumes that the reason we teach music to children is for the entertainment/hobby value–why challenge students with a difficult instrument playing classical music when they’d be more entertained by learning an easy instrument playing easier music? And, he assumes that because classical music is not widely popular as a form of entertainment in our society, that the study of classical lacks relevancy for students.

The skills students learn through school music study are relevant to life however.  We don’t teach history in school because we expect everyone to become a college history professor–we teach it because we want them to learn the life lessons history has to offer.  Likewise, we don’t teach music in school because we want everyone to become a professional musician, or to be able to entertain themselves or their friends (although that’s a nice perk that can develop from music participation if students choose to go that route)–we teach it because we want them to learn and practice the skills that are inherent in music study.  Patience, teamwork, persistence, leadership, collaboration, etc….



Summary: Schwartz laments how schools are increasingly giving in to short student attention spans, saying that “by catering to diminished attention, we are making a colossal and unconscionable mistake.  The world is a complex and subtle place, and efforts to understand it and improve it much match its complexity and subtlety.”

Quotes: “The key point for teachers and principals and parents to realize is that maintaining attention is a skill. It has to be trained, and it has to be practiced. If we cater to short attention spans by offering materials that can be managed with short attention spans, the skill will not develop. The “attention muscle” will not be exercised and strengthened.”

“The world is complex, and it isn’t going to get any simpler. Unless we can create a population that is capable of thinking about complexity in complex ways, it is highly unlikely that the problems of global warming; economic inequality; access to affordable, high-quality health care; or any of the other challenges the U.S. and the rest of the world face will get adequate solutions. Good solutions to any of these problems will be complex, and they will not win support from a population that demands simplicity. Teachers have a responsibility to train complex minds that are suited to a complex world. This is at least as important as teaching young people mathematics, biology, or literature.”

My take: This is where music education comes into play–not by indoctrinating kids into classical music or anything of that nature, but by demonstrating that music is a subject in which the skills that today’s students need to be successful in the future are inherently developed.  If you want to master complex systems, increase your attention span and patience and have fun while you do it, music study is for you.



Summary: Kase cites several ongoing studies which are showing the benefits of music education on child brain development.

Quotes: “Though these studies are far from over, researchers, as well as the parents and teachers of the study subjects, are already noticing a change in the kids who are studying music. Preliminary results suggest that not only does school and community-based music instruction indeed have an impact on brain functioning, but that it could possibly make a significant difference in the academic trajectory of lower-income kids.”

““Not only does music instruction improve communication skills and create a brain and nervous system that is more attuned to sound, which is important for both music and language,” says Kraus, “but music can fundamentally alter the nervous system to create better learners.” What’s more, adds Kraus, is that early music experience will have a positive effect on the adult brain whether you continue it or not. In fact, a study by Kraus published last year by the Journal of Neuroscience, found that childhood music lessons helped sharpen the brain’s response to sound well into adulthood—even when adults no longer played an instrument.”

My take: This is the stuff music teachers have been talking about for years!  Someone needs to forward this article to Mark Oppenheimer, who believes that the “claims for the utility of music and dance lessons…are, I think, unfounded and overblown.”  Hmmm.

If a group of scientists came out tomorrow and said “we have discovered a definitive way to increase student attention spans, increase brain development and increase the natural ability to learn” wouldn’t we beg to know what they had discovered?  Wouldn’t we immediately implement their suggestions?  Yet, the music education field has been doing this for decades.  Thankfully, neuroscientists are joining the cause and increasing our ability to get the word out.



Summary: An excerpt from an interview with recent Nobel Prize winner for medicine and physiology, Thomas Sudhof.  Sudhof, who is not a musician by profession, still credits his music study as being partially responsible for his achievements.

Quote: (Answering the question, “Who was your most influential teacher, and why?”): “My bassoon teacher, Herbert Tauscher, who taught me that the only way to do something right is to practice and listen and practice and listen, hours, and hours, and hours.”

My take: A perfect example of what we know music study can do for kids–it’s not about making them into mini-professional musicians.  It’s about using what is unique about music to teach them how to be successful people in whatever they choose to do in life.  Other subjects teach their subject.  Music teaches success skills!



Summary: Lipman profiles several well-known individuals who credit their music study with success in their non-music careers including Condoleeza Rice, Alan Greenspan, Woody Allen, Paula Zahn, Chuck Todd, and Andrea Mitchell.

Quote: “Mr. Todd, now 41, recounted in detail the solo audition at age 17 when he got the second-highest mark rather than the highest mark — though he still was principal horn in Florida’s All-State Orchestra.

“I’ve always believed the reason I’ve gotten ahead is by outworking other people,” he says. It’s a skill learned by “playing that solo one more time, working on that one little section one more time,” and it translates into “working on something over and over again, or double-checking or triple-checking.” He adds, “There’s nothing like music to teach you that eventually if you work hard enough, it does get better. You see the results.”

That’s an observation worth remembering at a time when music as a serious pursuit — and music education — is in decline in this country.

Consider the qualities these high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas. All are qualities notably absent from public life.”

My take: The last part of the quote above says it all.  If collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas are all notably absent from public life–yet we acknowledge that these are the qualities that our future leaders will need, and also acknowledge that these qualities are developed through music education, how can we not conclude that it is essential to prioritize music study for today’s students?

Just think of what would happen if we sent 535 high school music students to Congress…..I’ll stop there.