The Barre school commissioners’ decision to shift the middle school’s band program to an after-school activity will marginalize the study of music and the arts precisely at the moment when our young people need them the most. Their decision exemplifies a belief in the false necessity of having to choose between the arts and other disciplines.
The study of music and art is intrinsically valuable, but recent research has also revealed that learning an instrument at a young age profoundly shapes one’s intellectual and emotional life. Robert Root-Bernstein of the University of Michigan reports that scientists who are also considered practicing musicians are up to 18 times more likely to be Nobel laureates in science than those who are not. Noted neuroscientist Oliver Sacks in his book “Musicophilia” recounts being able to tell with just a glance whether a brain under examination belongs to a musician — the physical difference and complexity in the structure of the brains between musicians and nonmusicians are that apparent.
Beyond the documented effect that learning to play an instrument has on students’ cognitive abilities are the opportunities it provides to develop the social and emotional skills that will allow students to succeed in the 21st-century workplace. The leaders of tomorrow, we are told, must know how to express themselves effectively, collaborate with diverse partners working toward a common goal, and demonstrate endless creativity and innovation. These are exactly the skills one learns by being a part of a band. Contrary to current practice, band should be central to the middle school curriculum; these learning opportunities should be celebrated.
The writer is executive director of the Vermont Arts Council.
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