Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Why Our Work Matters

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Why Our Work Matters

Article excerpt

Does music make us smarter? Perhaps - perhaps not. In this article, the author questions the 'music makes you smarter' mantra by instead suggesting that our work matters simply because it has the potential to change lives. Using a compelling story about a boy named Jonathan, the author shows us that this, in fact, may be true.

Music educators are the only teaching professionals that seem to have to justify why we do what we do. I was never a strong believer in the 'music makes you smarter' commentary. I don't think music makes you any smarter than any other subject does. All learning makes you smarter. Demorest and Morrison (2000) argue that music does make you smarter but not in the way that the general public believes it does. Music and music education, they state, does in fact make you smarter - it makes you smarter in music. The implicit assumption is that 'smarter' means 'smarter at something else' (Demorest and Morrison, 2000, p. 33). Many of us are familiar with the works of Daniel J. Levitin from his book This is Your Brain on Music (2006) proving that music engages more of the brain at one time more than any other activity. Also, you may have come across a viral TED-Ed video that has made its way around music teacher circles advocating for playing music as "...the brain's equivalent of a full body workout" (Collins, 2014) and makes some pretty convincing arguments about the benefits of learning music but always references how it helps in other subjects and applications that are not music related. As Peter Greene states in his recent article from the Huffington Post, "I really wish people would stop 'defending' music education like this" (Greene, 2015). The reason we teach music is not so our students will be better in other subjects. It is so they will find value in it, enjoy it, and find success with it when they are in school and throughout life. We never advocate for math in this manner, so why music? Math is directly helpful in other applications, and has an assumed importance that never needs advocating to the general public. Saying "music makes you smarter" or that learning music helps, indirectly, in other areas creates the assumption that there is no inherent value in it. In my opinion, 'music makes you smarter' as an advocacy tool, only hinders our ability to strive as legitimate professionals.

To me, it seems so simple: Every student deserves a chance to be successful at something. For example, not everyone is good at math; not everyone is good at reading and not everyone is good at music, but everyone is good at something. Without music in the school system, as per Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, we would be denying that musically intelligent student their chance for success. Or even that student who feels a deep connection with music. The more programs we can offer, the more students in the school will feel that they are good at something. The same can be said about any individual music program. The more diverse your program is, the more students you will be able to reach because not everyone likes the same music or the same ways of making music.

At Montague Consolidated School, I coach two rock bands. These bands are just one of the ways that I am able to engage with students at the school through music. Students at our school also partake in extra-curricular music activities that include glee choir, Christmas choir, guitar club, and full-scale musicals. In class, they engage with music using Orff percussion, recorder, solfege, guitar, arranging, rearranging, and composing music. Students have had success with all of these and many students stood out as leaders in their respective groups over the years. However, the most blatant incidences of student success and engagement have been with the rock bands.

When I think about students whose lives were changed by music in the school, there are a few that come to mind but they do not jump out as much as a particular student named Jonathan. …

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