The Benefits of Musical Education
September 1, 1999
The Benefits of Musical Education
by Lucie Renaud
In the last few years, the importance of musical education seems to be under constant siege. In these days of economic uncertainty and budget cuts, bureaucrats often opt to invest in more "traditional" subjects, such as math, language, and science (with particular emphasis on computers). In this age of scientific specialisation, is there still a time and a place to learn an instrument or sing in a choir?
Playing an instrument or singing as an "amateur" shouldn't be considered less important than attending recitals of famous performers. We must remind ourselves that the word "amateur" is derived from the Latin "amator," meaning "lover." In the medieval and Renaissance periods, the line separating the music-loving "amateur" and "professional" musicians was very thin indeed. Amateurs, mostly aristocrats, were able to devote their lives fully to the pursuit of musical excellence. In fact, these music-lovers often received more extensive training--and were consequently better musicians--than the professionals who relied on performing for their livelihood!
During the Classical period, the notion of hausmusik took hold, offering uncomplicated compositions that could be played for pleasure, at home rather than in concert. The majority of musicians did not aim to become famous, but were rather seeking to fulfil their inner lives by performing music.
In our modern society, music is omnipresent in many forms. So why do so few people play an instrument? Perhaps we have become passive consumers, a society of cultural voyeurs for which music has become a mere commodity. Turned into "product" and lost within marketing operations, music faces losing its essential role as the voice of the human spirit.
According to numerous recent studies musical education can also bear practical results in other fields. For example, in the US, one study demonstrated that the schools ranked highest in academic achievement all dedicated 20-30% of their teaching time to the arts, especially music.
Of course, scientific studies shouldn't be the main motivation for learning an instrument or singing in a choir. The real reason to study music? Music is a universal language, a way of exploring the emotional and aesthetic heart of the human adventure. Children learning to express themselves through music are building ties between themselves and the outside world. Music helps them discover their true inner being. When they understand the direct relation between the amount of hours they devote to their instrument and the level of their interpretation, it reinforces their personal sense of discipline.
In spite of all the learning methods and CD-ROMs available on the market, nothing can replace the presence of a good teacher, even for adult beginners. Choosing a teacher can be daunting, but it is a critical task: a bad teacher can leave permanent scars, be they physical (tendinitis and other music-related injuries) or psychological. Conversely, a good teacher can create a special bond with the student, adapting the lessons to each student's interests and abilities.
Most kids who take up an instrument will never become concert performers, but that is not important--the pleasure offered by music can endure for a lifetime. What music most needs to survive, as an art form, is a loving, devoted, educated public that will continue to encourage its practice. As Weber put it in 1817, "Music is as necessary for the survival of mankind as love is. Music is one of the purest forms of love, the eternal language of emotions and their subtle metamorphoses."