It’s All About the Music

It's All About the Music

Well, I was knee deep in editing about 150 college application essays for high school seniors for some weeks and finally can move on to other important things.  I have been wanting to talk with you about today’s topic ever since I read an article last summer about legendary trumpeter Herb Alpert.  (If you are too young to remember Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, go listen to Alpert’s signature style on YouTube.  Start with “Tijuana Taxi” and “This Guy’s In Love With You”—and stay for all the rest.)

Before we talk about Alpert, let’s say a word or two about the value of music in your child’s education.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have one son with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Berklee College of Music and another son who is an MC and on-the-rise performer of grime in the U.S.  (If you are too old to know what grime is, head back to YouTube and look for grime artists from London, where the genre originated.)  Clearly, as a parent, I think music is crucial to a child’s education.

When I co-founded a small Early College STEM high school in New York City, one of the first things we did was start a music program:  one required History of American Music course for all students, one elective music theory course, and an after-school performance group.  Why?  Because for some kids, music is the only reason to come to school.  Our student was Wilmer, and he is still playing music.  Parents, you might have a kid like Wilmer at home; but, even it you don’t, you have a kid who still needs a music education.

Jackie Zubrzycki reported on some recent research in the Education Week blog Curriculum Matters:

Studying music seems to have helped accelerate the cognitive development, and particularly the auditory- and speech and language-processing abilities, of a group of young children in Los Angeles.

That’s an early pair of findings from a five-year longitudinal study being conducted by researchers with the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, in partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and the Heart of Los Angeles, a community center. The study, published earlier this spring in Developmental Cognitive Neurosciencechecks in on a group of students two years into an experiment about the impact of music education on students’ cognitive, social, and emotional development.

And here is just a bit of the substantial research reported by Laura Lewis Brown at PBS Parents:

Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a nonmusician. “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches a specialized music curriculum for children aged two months to nine years.

In fact, a study led by Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College, and Gottfried Schlaug, professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, found changes in the brain images of children who underwent 15 months of weekly music instruction and practice. The students in the study who received music instruction had improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks, and brain imaging showed changes to the networks in the brain associated with those abilities, according to the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research.

So, for lots of reasons that are scientific and social and emotional and artistic and cultural more, music seems to be quite a gift for children.

And now, Alpert, musician extraordinaire and co-founder of A&M Records, has made music quite a gift for a group of talented college students.  His foundation—co-founded with his wife, singer Lani Hall—has made a $10.1 million gift to Los Angeles City College (LACC), a two-year public community college.  The money will create an endowment, which will be used to raise the number of music majors enrolled from 175 to 250 and to provide ALL of them with FREE tuition.

Yes, ALL of them with FREE tuition.  Talk about giving back…

As reported by Carolina A. Miranda in the Los Angeles Times, Alpert said this about his gift:

“LACC is a gem of an institution. . . . The biggest motivation was helping kids who don’t have the financial energy to go to a major college. At LACC, they’ve nurtured thousands of dedicated students every year. My brother went there. My ex-partner [record producer] Lou Adler went there. I’ve visited the school. It’s alive. It’s kickin’.”

Alpert noted that he was especially interested in supporting a public institution where students of all socioeconomic backgrounds could get a college education.  I hope that our newest leaders are watching and listening, as they continue to slash the budgets of public higher education institutions and make it harder and harder for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds to get the college education they deserve.

And one last word from Alpert:

 “I was super-shy and the trumpet was speaking for me. . . . It made the noise I couldn’t get out of my mouth. It’s a way for kids to experience their own uniqueness and appreciate the uniqueness of others.”

No one doubts that you are unique, Mr. Alpert.  We just need a lot more like you.

Parents of kids of all ages:  How many more research articles do you need?  Get some music into your kid’s life.  If you can afford to pay for private music lessons, great.  But there is so much more that our public schools can do and must do for all of our students.

Lobby your Board of Education, your district administrators, and your school administrators to offer a well-rounded music program—both music performance and music appreciation/history.  As the inimitable music genius Quincy Jones has said, American kids are woefully ignorant of our country’s rich music heritage.  Parents, make sure that ends now.

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