2006-07-20 / View From the Middle

View From The Middle

Music For Schools Has A Chance; All It Takes Is $$$
By Charles Rogers


It behooves us every once in awhile to step back and smell a few of the nice flowers growing around us. In this fast-paced world, with so much bloodshed and war and semi-war and cynicism and selfishness, it is sometimes refreshing to find goodness right in front of us.

A non-profit organization called Education Through Music (ETM) recently received a huge grant from the New York State Music Fund to bring music - and the appreciation of it - to inner city children and schools. According to a spokesperson for ETM, the grant, totaling $150,000, will be used to "continue (music) program expansion in New York City schools and provide skills-based curriculum to every student with well-trained teachers and regular program assessment."

We don't hear too much about such things nowadays, do we? The shame of it is that the organization needs the money in order to continue bringing some kind of culture - some way of improving the lives - to the young people, who, after all, get little enough of real culture in this world. We're not talking (necessarily) about our particular Canarsie schools, thank God. The affected schools are called "disadvantaged," and there are more than a few in the city, including some in Brooklyn.

Part of the prospectus allowing ETM's grant include research they have done on the effects of music on children that show that learning it through listening, performance, voice and instrumental instruction increases reading, writing, mathematical and reasoning skills. "Yet many schools, especially those serving low-income students, have excluded music from the curriculum or have relied on isolated, fragmented experiences that do not provide children with true knowledge and skills," the proposal states. "ETM strives to save music education by incorporating it as a core discipline." They mention that a model of their program is being adapted by school districts across the country.

The process hits home, I must admit, and I ask that you bear with me and my personal reflections for an explanation:

The ETM process would have made my mother proud. She was a musician; a classic, jazz, swing, you-name-it, professional pianist. When she met my father, who was also a classic, jazz, swing, you-name-it, professional pianist and music arranger, they did the early radio thing and were pioneers in the broadcasting industry.

After my father died, my mother, who had taken the time to be "at home" so she could raise the family (only playing a gig now and then), went back

full-time to the profession she knew best and steeped herself in work, eventually becoming a Certified Music Therapist. This arm of her profession was perfect for this lady, for she essentially started doing this kind of thing during and after World War II and the Korean conflict when she would play veterans hospitals, not only giving a "lift" to the wounded vets but assisting in "soothing the savage breast" so to speak. She knew it was inadvertent therapy at the time, and clung to the ideals of using music to psychologically help in so many ways.

Music therapists came into their own when Army doctors found that their patients were being relieved of some of the trauma of war merely by responding positively to music and asked that musicians be hired to make regular visits to hospitals. Since there was some kind of medical training needed, the profession was included in college curricula and, eventually, the requisite for a Certification Board.

Back to Mom: Since she had had so much experience through the years, she was asked - even in her later years - to lecture at various symposia, including schools like NYU.

There were many exciting aspects to this music therapy thing. On occasion, my mother would tell me how she made a "breakthrough" with a veteran who could not speak - except through music. If she played something like "Happy Birthday To You," the soldier would recognize it and, using the tones in the song, would voice the words, "Good morning to you." I remember Mom's excitement at the prospects this breakthrough would bring. There were others, of course...and I could see her pride in being an instrument in making someone's life, that otherwise would have been full of despair, so much better.

It's interesting to note the comparisons to this ETM group and music therapy. Although one is a certified medical psychological device, the other is also clinical, in a way. With ETM, the children are the "patients" and, while they are not suffering from any apparent "trauma," they are lacking in a smooth developmental transition into society. What better way than for them to have fun with music; to sing or play their way within, and through, the learning process?

Mom would have been excited at the prospects and results of this kind of program. And she would have loved their slogan: Education Through Music - Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?\

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