The social benefits of music education

Our schools have become obsessed with job training and getting students into college. So much so that they tend to devalue everything else. They fail, or perhaps refuse, to value the social benefits of music education and other seeming frills. My wife taught English as a Second Language (ESL) in a middle school. All the teachers of “real” subjects had a duty-free lunch. Subjects such as ESL, foreign languages, physical education, art, and music seemed less important. So their teachers had to eat their lunch in the cafeteria and enforce discipline. If anyone has seriously written about why schools should … Continue reading

orKIDstra: delightful music outreach to children

The local newspaper had an article about a concert called orKIDstra. It combined building both literacy skills and enthusiasm for classical music in preschoolers. I wondered if it is strictly a local program, or something larger. Yes, sort of, to both questions. The Greensboro Symphony Orchestra has called its outreach to pre-school students “orKIDstra” for more than 15 years. Its emphasis and structure have changed a few times. It has used current combination of percussion ensembles and children’s books for about five years. A web search found classical music programming for children called orKIDstra in three different countries. Besides the … Continue reading

Youth orchestras: killing two stereotypes at once

Young people these days can’t be pried away from their cell phones. They’re lazy and undisciplined. At least, that’s the prevailing stereotype. Classical music is just about dead according to obituaries that seem to appear in magazine articles and well-read blogs every year. No one cares about such old-fashioned music except an increasingly aging population. At least, that’s the prevailing stereotype. Don’t be fooled. Youth orchestras all over the country (and all over the world, for that matter, in case the stereotypes cross international borders) work very hard to polish performances of the standard orchestral repertoire. They love the music, … Continue reading

Music education and gun violence

Three interesting and important stories about music education have come to my attention over the last couple of months. Then came the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As it turns out, there is a connection. Just before Christmas, I heard an interesting interview on the radio, found it on line, and emailed it to myself. Somehow, I couldn’t find it the first time I looked for it, but it turned up the other day when I was looking for something else. It’s an interview between NPR’s Scott Simon and Marin Alsop, conductor of both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and … Continue reading

The Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

How did the town of Cateura, Paraguay get an internationally known youth orchestra? It sits on the largest landfill in the country. Its citizens pick through the trash to find things to recycle and sell. It’s almost as if both the contents of the landfill and the people who live on it are discards, out of sight and out of mind for most of the rest of the country. The story begins with Luis Szarán, since 1990 the conductor of the Symphonic Orchestra of Asunción. He grew up poor, the eighth child of Paraguayan farmers. He had musical talent. A … Continue reading

Budget cutting: follow-up to Joshua Bell post

I have just learned from another blog that the Monroe County school district (Bloomington, Indiana) has decided to eliminate the string program. Joshua Bell started playing violin in that program. Could one of the 150 elementary school students who can no longer learn string instruments in that school system have become as renowned an artist? No one will ever know, but it is certain that the move will deprive all of those children of the opportunity to learn to love great music by playing it, not to mention a possibility of a satisfying career (or at least life-long hobby) in … Continue reading