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Why music should be taught in schools

 

Silvio Catalin STEFAN, muzicolog, Australia

 

 

Subject:madvocating for music education: past, present, future - a philosophical statement

Keywords:       sine qua non[1]

                        basic brain development

                        expression and intellect

Content:

·        music education evolution

o       a brief look back

o       contemporary researchers

 

·        a personal view

o       mass students

o       gifted students

o       multiple intelligence; curing through music

 

·        the future

·        conclusions

·        bibliography

 

Music education evolution

Music has played a sine qua non role in people enjoyment and education fulfillment all over the world, providing throughout history that can have major contributions in children and/or adults’ identity evolution, in their organic and spiritual development, or in their interior leaps.

 

We have already witnessed great pleadings’ for the importance of music not only in students’ education, but also in human life. From Pythagoras[2] to Einstein, and from Leonardo DaVinci to the all second millennium philosophers[3], they all advocated for a very important feature of our life: music. Today, with the new high-tech image devices that can peer into so many fields, scientists have been able to assess the contribution that music education can have, boosting the IQ level, reducing the mental retardation, cutting school failure rates by much more, bringing people together. In fact, I think, the only idea that may pale the richness of the music endowment to the human evolution is the exclusive dichotomy: spiritual-material, body-soul, good-bad, black-white[4].                     

 

A brief look back

In ancient Greek, Plato and others used to place music in opposition with gymnastic or other physical pursuits. Music and physical education were the main subjects taught to the students, and were considered the best for their growth. Of course, music meant a very broad sense and included any of the arts and sciences that came under the patronage of the muses: lyric poetry, tragic and comic drama, choral dancing, singing, astronomy, history, were also included. Plato also considered that music has convivial modes (such as Ionian) and dirge mode (such as the mixed or the tense and higher Lidian). His famous quote music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything[5] may easily be a motto for any musicologist or music educator. This condensed quote states the power of music to unequivocally catalyse everything the music touches.        

 

Music historians noted that in Middle Ages, music used to be studied along with the other science related subjects: math and astronomy. Music was considered a key component of youngsters’ education and the power of music helped to the spread of the Christianity as well as the laic shows, legends and myths, vaudevilles[6] etc. It is believed by some musicologists that in Middle Ages music was highly appreciated as a new and modern language – a bit like today’s computer’s language – and used to be implemented in young students’ education, especially by wealthy families.

 

After the nineteenth century, many researchers or scientists – from Einstein to Kodaly or from Husserl[7] to Orff – embarked on different music-ship ideas or various writings advocating, one more time, for the importance of music in students, especially young students, education.     

 

Contemporary researchers

Those whose profession is to teach music in schools have always had to plead in favor of it, to offer whatever arguments they could imagine to gain support for their endeavors[8], said Professor Emeritus Bennett Reimer within an article written for the International Society of Music Education. It has been discussed so much lately (especially in the last two decades) about music benefits to the development of skills; to intelligence; to health and well being; to creativity; to knowledge in subjects other than music. It is, however, widely recognised that music study, first and foremost, is basic to the curriculum because music is basic to the human brain. Professor Frances Rauscher, has shown in a study that a simple exposure to music can increase students’ spatial IQ[9]. Other studies have proved that students who are studying music have more synapses inside their brain than the others who do not study music. Dr. pediatric neurologist Harry Chugani from Wayne State University, Detroit, believes that the new discoveries about the brain require a fundamental change in the nation’s educational curricula. There should be more emphasis on earlier education for key areas: music, language, math, problem-solving[10]      

 

A personal view

Mass students

During my last years of teaching music under an elective curriculum, I noticed that many students come over to study music because of an interior call, and I do believe that what they are actually looking for is to express their feelings, not to master their mind. They obviously will, but usually that is not the first call. So first of all, I consider that it is important that students are exposed to music so they can understand and communicate their own feelings. All students should experience and be given the opportunity to study music from the elementary school (see note 4). As the medical investigations demonstrated that music and speech require the brain to organize acoustic patterns and the learning capacity of our brain start going down from the age of twelve, it is notable to understand and proceed ahead accordingly. But music education also is a matter of expression, not only intelligence. And as music is so basic to the human condition, so foundational for a life well lived, it is essential to support it as everything now considered basic in education, perhaps even more important in that it balances attention to intellectual pursuits by attention to the inner life.   

 

  

 

Gifted students

I also noticed quite often in schools many gifted students. My big frustration is that despite they really have valuable innate qualities for studying music at a very high level, the main challenge dwells in finding the best ways to work with them, identifying the most suitable materials (or other logistics issues) for such very special need. Special equipment and facilities, the student time away from other classes and other impediments that may occur are serious obstacles that need to be efficiently overtaken. A solution for those students who are very gifted may be a particular agenda for them; they are to be identified at least six months before the upcoming year and have a special timetable that needs to be worked out by the music instructor together with the other school teachers. For example, I have met students with fantastic vocal potential that gave up when they saw that school facilities and other regulations are not up to their natural potential.     

 

 

Multiple intelligences; curing through music

Dr. Howard Gardner’s[11] research identified seven types of multiple intelligences and one of them is musical/rhythmic intelligence.

Dr. Howard Gardener describes the musical/rhythmic intelligence as:

“This intelligence includes such capacities as the recognition and use of rhythm and tonal patterns, and sensitivity to sounds from environment, the human voice, and musical instruments. Of all forms of intelligence identified thus far, the consciousness altering effect of music and rhythm is the greatest. Just think of how music can calm you when you are stressed etc.”[12]   

 

The other kinds of intelligence are:

 

-          logical/mathematical      (numbers recognition)

-          visual/spatial                     (mental pictures)

-          body/kinesthetic                (controlling body motion)

-          interpersonal                      (operates person-to-person communication)

-          intrapersonal                      (reflection, thinking about thinking)

-          verbal/linguistic                (related to words and language)

 

Of all above mentioned gifts with which individuals may be endowed, none emerges earlier than musical/rhythm intelligence. It would be unfair to conclude that musical/rhythm intelligence is thus superior to the above mentioned ones. However, the musician is constantly adjusting decisions on tempo, tone, style, rhythm, phrasing, and feeling-training the brain to become incredibly good at organizing and conducting numerous activities at once[13]. Most likely, I suppose, the multiple intelligences Dr. Howard Gardner described in his project do inter-communicate with each other, and it may be possible to be transferable. However, it remains uncertain why this particular intelligence emerges so early; or how a child, victim of autism, a youngster who can barely communicate with anyone else and who is severely disturbed in several affective and cognitive spheres, still s/he exhibit an isolated sparing of musical intelligence, such that s/he can sing back flawlessly any piece s/he hears[14]. United States since around 1944 has an undergraduate program in its current/modern way and United Kingdom since around 1960 grounded strong music therapy programs and is certain that music is one of the best remedy for diseases like schizophrenia, dyslexia, autism, learning disabilities, etc.

 

The future

The assets a child may have from its music education are infinite. Participation in music brings countless advantages to each individual throughout life. The benefits may be psychological, spiritual, and/or physical as well. Music education makes children smarter, there are proved measures of child’s overall intelligence are increased with music instruction. In my opinion, the future in music education needs to be based on three aspects: 

 

1)      students’ music exposure to a wide range of styles (such as pop, jazz, ballads, rock, blues, funk, reggae, country etc) includes at least 40% of classical music[15]. It needs to start with classical or to include classical music in their repertoire for their first five years of study. 

 

2)    the assessment a music teacher is doing is not only simple grading.

Although the ineffableness of music is above the words or other explanations (yet above the sounds[16]) and for some music teachers the very idea of objectifying music is to be shunned, various types of concrete assessment do exist[17]:

 

-         student assessment      

this is the evaluation of students’ learning, which provides a basis for planning future instruction)

 

-         program assessment

this examines a particular educational program. Music teachers not only assess the learning of students in their charge, but they also determine the efficacy of a music program’s course offerings, ensembles, performance opportunities, and special events.

 

-         authentic assessment

this is used to determine student’s progress. Music educators have an advantage over educators in other curriculum in that, they are involved in public activity by which they can demonstrate that.

 

-         portofolio assessment

this is a tool for recording process and product. Ideally, an individual’s portofolio contains items such as musical programs, teacher’s written activities, recordings, self-evaluations. The results of periodic reviews of the portofolio provide feed-back to students, teachers, and parents. 

 

3)     the musician is the teacher, not the teacher is the musician. 

The music is to be played or sung. The teacher is a model of music. The students often associate our “picture” with the music. It is important that music teacher’s annual review includes whether s/he has had any music productions or not.  

 

Conclusions

The epitome of this paper resides in doing it. We need to do less trying to persuade by claiming all sorts of marvelous achievements for music learning when we are still struggling to offer - or sometimes do not know how to offer – their magnificent beneficences. We really need to look at who we are and who we need to become, what we have done and what we have not done yet. The better we do the less need there will be for pro-music education arguments.      

 

_________________

Silvio Catalin Stefan

22.05.2007, Warragul

Australia


[1] Latin, an approximate translation: it can’t be done without it.

[2] The harmonic sounds theory, which is the fundamental basis of all pre-tonal and tonal music, belongs to Pythagoras. Pythagoras also thought that the cosmos perfection is based on acoustic principles. 

[3] In the twelfth century Hildegard von Bingen said that the human being has sounds principles in it, and through its’ nature is symphonizing. In the twentieth century Emil Cioran said that the whole universe is based on sounds’ rules. 

[4] I know how curious this may sound. Yes has to be yes, not has to be not, otherwise we will face an endless to be or not to be. All I am thinking about here is the understanding of a process, not the action, understanding which is locked by dichotomies. 

[5] Citate celebre (Famous Quotes), Ed. Albatros 1992, Romania, p. 178

[6] Medieval street music shows, often having a comic topic 

[7] Edmund Husserl does not have concrete studies about music exclusively. However, the phenomenology he created has been quickly assimilated in music and included by many educators in their teaching through different analytical-intentional approaches (possibly applicable to any kind of object): musical and/or acoustical maps, music stories, music personages etc.     

[8] Bennett Reimer, Emeritus Professor – School of Music, Northwestern University, Chicago, The Danger of Music Education Advocacy, www.isme.org/en/advocacy   

[9] Frances Rauscher, Department of Psychology, University of Wiscosin Oshkosh, Listening to Mozart enhances spatial-temporal reasoning: Towards a neurophysiological basis. Neuroscience letters, 185, 44-47

[10] Ronald Kotulak, Inside The Brain, Pullitzer Prize winning series, The Chicago Tribune Edition 1996, p.33

[11] Dr. Howard Gardner, Harvard University, a pioneer in the contemporary understanding of multiple intelligences, has led a cognitive research Project Zero where seven main types of intelligences were identified. However, he believes there may be more. 

[12] Jane Southcott, Faculty of Education, Monash University, Methods of Teaching, Unit 2A, Off-Campus Learning Centre Edition, March 2006; Chapter 10, P. Lazear, Introduction, Seven Ways of Knowing: Teaching for Multiple Intelligences, Hawker Brownlow Education, USA, 1991, p. 131.

[13] Ratey John J., MD, A User’s Guide to The Brain, New York: Pantheon Books, 2001

[14] I have been teaching piano LS, an autistic student, for two years. He has constantly improved his piano skills as well as his results at all other school subjects; he certainly communicates better with everybody when he is in a music environment. 

[15] Classical does not mean only the Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven era, but the wide meaning that comprehends all tonal music from baroque until late romantic music.

[16] Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996), the greatest Romanian conductor: Music starts when the sounds are finished.

[17] Jane Southcott, Faculty of Education, Monash University, Methods of Teaching, Unit 2A, Off-Campus Learning Centre Edition, March 2006; Chapter 9: Edward Asmus, Director of Graduate Studies, University of Utah, Music Assessments Concepts, p. 120-121

 

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