Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Music Hath Charms

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Music Hath Charms

Article excerpt

In many ways, 2016 was a year worth forgetting. Acts of terrorism, injustice, and intolerance were disturbingly common. World events caused feelings ranging from fear to incredulity. Whether it was Brexit or the American election campaign and outcome, many of us found ourselves shaking our heads at what we thought were unexpected outcomes. Even two months later, I see articles rationalizing some of these decisions on the basis of people's desire for "change." The day after the U.S. election, a student observed the mood amongst their colleagues and said, "Well, at least we still have music." And in a rehearsal that afternoon in which singers wanted to talk about the election results, we did indeed seek distraction and even solace through the music.

When I was a young teacher, fresh out of university and full of ideals (but lacking experience) I was hard pressed to justify the use of music for anything but aesthetic purposes. It seemed wrong somehow to tout music's benefits as a means of developing discipline or helping people become diligent through practice habits, or even worse, to think that it would help with math or any other number of subjects. To me, those non-musical rationales for music education were weak. Over time, I began to realize, however, that those things in addition to the artistic and affective benefits were also important, and that in tandem, they made for a very comprehensive and balanced justification for teaching and learning music.

As a child, I was fortunate to have parents who valued music and encouraged me; there was never any question about the value of music or the need to justify why one would sing in a choir, for example. It was just part of what we did. Growing up in a very musical town in Nova Scotia taught me that it was "normal" activity for people. Most of my friends were musical, and later, as an adult, I gravitated to people who either made music professionally or enjoyed it as amateurs or audience members. It was not until I had taught for a while and found myself justifying my job to some parents or community members that I began to realize that not everyone thought the way I did. Naïve? Yes, indeed I was. It became clearer to me that if people did not understand the affective benefits of music, they might understand some of the practical ones, but that begged the question, "What does music offer my child that nothing else does?" Again, time and experience proved to be great teachers. What music offered every child was a comprehensive experience that touched not only the soul or emotional aspects of the learner, but the physical and the intellectual, too. In addition to all its artistic benefits, music learning had practical ones, too. That fact I learned to accept and even embrace.

My daughter took ballet for many years and liked being in classes with her friends, participating in annual recitals, and building strength and grace. I did not expect her to become a professional dancer, nor did she, but enrolled her in dance because it seemed "like a good thing to do" by giving her a variety of experiences to balance music and sports. As a non-dancer parent, I did not think about the artistic outcomes so much as I did the non-dance values. She was building physical coordination, staying fit, and enjoying an activity with her friends. Similarly, non-musician parents might have their children take music lessons to "broaden their horizons" without thinking about inherently musical benefits. It may be a holdover from earlier times when "well-educated" people learned to play the piano, for example.

Whatever the reason for getting involved in music, in the hands of an effective teacher, a person can have a good musical experience on many levels.

In working with volunteer choirs, I find that people come for various reasons. Some want to perfect their musical skills; some want to explore music in a community of like-minded people; some want to be challenging intellectually; some want a complete change of pace from their workday lives. …

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