The State of Music in the United States

By Ingle, Gary L. | American Music Teacher, June-July 2006 | Go to article overview

The State of Music in the United States


Ingle, Gary L., American Music Teacher


The following is from an address presented by MTNA Executive Director Gary L. Ingle for the International Music Council (IMC) World Forum on Music last October in Los Angeles, California. Ingle serves as president of the U.S. National Music Council, which represents 47 American music organizations to the IMC His address was on the topic, "The State of Music in the United States."

The often-used phrase by Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," aptly describes the current state of music in the United States. Indeed, it is the best of times for music in the United States: There is more interest in music than ever before, especially by adults. In a 2003 Gallup Poll for NAMM: The International Music Products Association, the research found that in 2003, 54 percent of households currently have at least one musical instrument player, compared to 38 percent in 1997, a 16 percent increase. Further, 48 percent of households have two or more members who play, compared to 34 percent in 1997, a 14 percent increase. Finally, among households with at least one person who plays, 35 percent participate in school instrumental music programs, compared to 23 percent in 1997; 18 percent take private lessons, even from 1997; and 15 percent take other types of instrumental music lessons, compared to 7 percent in 1997.

Research on the benefits of music to intelligence and wellness continues to flourish. In fact, genomic research has discovered scientifically that music making reverses stress at the genome level. And stress reduction reduces disease. It has been found, for example, that active group keyboard participation reduced stress more than simply relaxing or reading. This research has given rise to Recreational Music Making (RMM) especially among older adults. RMM focuses on the inherent value and health benefits of music making, not on the rigors of "performance." As a result, thousands of individuals who once considered themselves "not musical" are now participating in the joy and the health benefits of music making.

There are more music groups--performing and advocacy--than ever. The attitudes of society as a whole are positive toward music. Surveys continually affirm that our citizens consider music to be an important aspect of their lives, that playing a musical instrument is something you will always be glad you learned to do, that playing music provides a sense of personal accomplishment, and that music is enjoyable.

Those are some of the positives of music in the United States. Unfortunately, it is also "the worst of times."

Recently, I read a book by Barry Schwartz entitled The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More. In it, he describes a phenomenon whereby our "culture of abundance" robs us of satisfaction. When there are too many choices, or even too much of a good thing, we are overwhelmed and often are paralyzed into inaction.

I believe there is a relevance of his idea to some of our problems in music in the United States. We have created that impressive array of art organizations--performing and advocacy--around the country. Some are well-funded and well-established like the New York Philharmonic or the Metropolitan Opera. Others are small, experimental, less established groups with meager means of support. And there are all kinds of groups in between.

This plethora of arts groups is putting severe strain on the music scene all across the county. And like the scenario described by the aforementioned book, our own culture of abundance in musical organizations is severely testing our ability to sustain all of the groups, especially in light of decreased funding from the private sector. …

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