Rockford, illinois – Did you have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument when you were in grade school? When did your musical exposure begin? Did your parents play old Elvis records? Did they enjoy the Beatles? How about Sly and the Family Stone? Stevie Ray Vaughan? Were your parents more of the Alanis Morissette type?
For me, my parents were all about gospel, r&b, and the blues. In college, my dad owned his own VJ system (not a DJ – I said V-J, that means video jockey). What is a video jockey? Well, in a nutshell, my dad ran one of the few companies in the late 70’s and early 80’s that could play the music video to the songs that were being spun at clubs, parties and the like. They used a video projection screen, and took advantage of a time when DJ’s were looking for the next big thing – some were just imitating, my dad was more on the “innovating” side 🙂 He knew all the latest hits back then – he wasn’t a musician per se, but his influence and exposure to literally every Top 40 song night after night, and year after year, still reached me when I was little. I accredit my knowledge of Whitney Houston, Paula Abdul, Vanessa Williams, The Beegees, Michael Jackson, Clyde Stubblefield (Marvin Gaye, come on now), Bootsy Collins, The Parliament Funkadelic, Earth, Wind and Fire – all to my dad.
My mom was a Sunday School teacher, studying to become a minister, and also worked as an RN. Spirituality and health are both her callings. But at home, our favorite holiday was/still is Christmas. No – not because of the presents, actually. (Especially once I got my first keyboard – I didn’t really need another gift after that. I’m not making this up – I could have unwrapped the same keyboard or nothing at all, every year, once I got that Casio). For me, Christmas time was awesome because my mom would go into this GIGANTIC CD binder and pull out all her Christmas music! She was hooked on those Columbia CD offers, and she watched them like a hawk – checking the invoices, scoring TONS of albums over the years, and made every penny count! Some music was religious – yes, like Kirk Franklin and the Family Christmas or one of those really talented r&b/smooth jazz saxophone players that played Christmas tunes. Don’t judge me I can’t remember all their names! Other albums were more contemporary, like The Luther Vandross’ Christmas album; The Drifters’ Christmas album – are you kidding me? Those records made me feel so good! I was breaking down the parts in my head – who was playing drums, what was the pianist playing, and what was the REAL bass line? Oh I was a music NERD.
However, when I chose music, my parents weren’t sure how to take it. Since they weren’t musicians themselves, they had no idea how to guide me through. How do you just “look up” a private instructor? What are they worth? What will you do with your life by learning to play the piano? How will you provide for a family? (Pretty good questions if you were to ask any child these same questions today!)
Everyone is searching for meaning and value through investing in music instruction, and as concerned parents, they should! Luckily, hundreds of thousands of researchers, musicians, and professors have helped us gain some real data over time, to show us how valuable music education can be for your children!
While searching the interwebular database, we noted a really cool fact to help parents understand this really important fact about music – that music is without a doubt, one of the most unique, fun, socially stimulating and wholesome experiences you can give to your kids.
Using a database produced by the National Institutes of Health Magnetic Resonance (MRI) Study ofNormal Brain Development, the researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine analyzed the brain scans of 232 healthy children ages six to 18, specifically looking at brain development in children who play a musical instrument. (The original study didn’t indicate specific instruments, but that’s okay – it really doesn’t matter).
“What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument,” said James Hudziak, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families, “it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.”
To read the rest of the article from The Washington Post click here.
As I reflect on my own experience, this study is very accurate. As you sit in your chair, surrounded by your peers, you are already in an environment promoting competition but supported with camaraderie. As the conductor moves on from passage to passage, you must follow along in the music or you literally cannot participate at all! This is the opposite of a normal classroom where the teacher can ramble on and on while you sleep at your desk, write/pass notes or practice the exact way you want to write the alphabet for the rest of your life. No, if you get left behind, you literally cannot participate because the music moves on without you. As you sit there, clarinet (or whatever instrument) in hand, with your eyes pacing left to right trying to figure out where they are in the music, your hands begin to sweat a little. You begin to listen to the others in your section, and the band as a whole. You ask yourself questions like “How loud is the band playing? If they’re all playing loud, then I can look for a forte symbol in my music and maybe that’s where they are!” Or you could be thinking “When are the other musicians glancing up at the conductor, meaning they could be approaching the end of a section – especially if the majority of the band is doing it.” You could also be thinking, “Damn this class, I hate when I get lost! I need to practice with a metronome that also doesn’t stop, so I never lose my place in the music again!”
Well, thanks to your donations, Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation decided to purchase percussion instruments through our friends at DonorsChoose.org.
The Summerdale Early Childhood Center was the perfect application for us to flex our muscle. Mrs. Girardin explains, “My students are an eager, fun, loving group of pre-schoolers. Many of them are considered at risk. They love coming to school each day and bring their excitement with them. They love music and we use music a lot in our classroom to help us learn important readiness skills.”
In the state of Illinois, instruments are a state requirement, even though the budgets don’t always allow the teachers enough room to actually purchase them. In lower income areas, the chances of a school being able to support a music program have been thinning out.
As we reflect on our past experience with music and music education, we know that by funding Mrs. Girardin’s project will benefit these kids in ways that we cannot imagine. The look on these kids’ faces when those boxes show up, and the teacher says “Guess what, everyone? Today we’re going to do something a little different. Put your pencils away, put your notebooks away and stand up!” As a kid, you KNOW something is about to happen. You’re intrigued – now what? “What is it? My teacher is about to do something different – what is happening? Where am I?!” Then they open boxes like it’s Christmas time, and colorful instruments and books and recorders and the like, come gleaming out of the box for everyone to learn. It’s that simple, folks. That is the first feeling of enlightenment that comes from supporting a music program.
Strangely enough, it is so ironic that even though music is such an innate attribute to human beings, that it is so often neglected. Something that, to a child or first-timer, can feel so out of the ordinary is actually built-in and comes with so many benefits!
Because of your donations, these kids in Rockford have been exposed to a new world. Some may stick with it all the way through high school, some beyond that! Others may quickly realize that “music just isn’t their thing” BUT if their musician buddy needs a lawyer (hey it happens) they’ll be there!
The fight for music education is not just about buying new instruments. The issue comes down to the fact that we are stripping our future generations of culture and we are robbing them of the lessons of individuality within boundaries. By cutting music education, we are teaching them that in life, there are always right and wrong answers when in actuality, there are right answers, wrong answers and exceptions. There are always exceptions, folks.
What better way to show them this phenomenon than through a wholesome experience that will teach them discipline, perseverance, and patience in the process?
Help us make a difference. Make a small donation and we’ll ensure these kids have an opportunity to be fit for a bright future!