Music teaches students to be complete peoplePublished 10:44am Monday, September 19, 2011
The band and orchestra and choir almost filled the floor of the Peoria hockey arena, and we sat high above with a clear view of the Illinois all-state music groups. Orchestra members dressed formally for concert. Band members wore the uniforms of their respective high schools. The choir was most colorful with robes of various school colors.
The musical compositions for all three groups were well chosen by competent music educators to develop and encourage refined aesthetic sensitivity. What a refreshing change from the usual fare claimed to be popular entertainment. Entertaining as it was, it also enriched us.
I suppose I should confess to a grandparent’s biased pride, but to my reasonably experienced ears, it all seemed professionally done. I really do think a recording played to a general audience told these were professional groups would accept it as credible.
The finale was the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” with alternating between band, orchestra, and choir. Breath-taking, this.
Thought provoking, too. This is what I was thinking in February. I think now, as I did then, not just from this grand performance. I think from having sung in my high school choir. I think from watching our three children in Austin High School choir, band and orchestra — and Minnesota all-states. And now our grandchildren. I think from what I observed as a high school teacher in Michigan, coming to respect the musicians among my English students.
I know these kids from all over Illinois. Without having met any but a few, I know them, because I know their experiences. If I tabulated their GPAs, I know they would compare well with any group of high school students classed by grade level, family background, extracurricular activity, or any other way to group them. It could be they would constitute the state honors society by themselves. There might be geeks who would score higher GPAs, but as a group, these would compete successfully with any other group.
If I would keep track of each all-state musician — in Illinois, Minnesota, or any state — and contact them ten years from now, I would learn almost all had completed college and were either in responsible professions or at the end of graduate studies. I would anticipate their being wholesome persons, responsible citizens and respected leaders.
If we surveyed such today, I expect many had been all-state musicians. Those who didn’t reach all-state also took music seriously, and they took themselves seriously as musicians. Their ultimate achievement is not musical skill, but personal competence. Whether they achieved all-state status is really not the point. What is the point is they had been dedicated, hard-working school musicians.
What excited me in Peoria was not how many of these high school musicians would eventually become professional musicians who might delight me in recordings, live concerts, or television performance. I suspect a small percentage even then hoped to become professionals. Whatever the number, I know few of these will succeed. The American public just is not willing to support many, and those kids who will try have many disappointments ahead.
Those who will fail to find employment as professional musicians will not yet be failures. They, and the greater number who have other plans for their lives, are fulfilling themselves as persons, as humans. I predict great things for them all and great things from them for us all.
As I have looked over those performing in such as the Austin Symphony Orchestra and other community orchestras, bands and choirs, I recognize the kind of persons school musicians become. I realize the worth of it all.
I understand school music teachers feel rewarded when one of their students makes the grade professionally. Yet most teachers never experience this thrill and pride. But they have not failed as teachers, and those who have a student go on professionally do not have in this individual their greatest achievement. What music teachers, including those in private practice, contribute to society is not so much musicians, but whole persons.
What students learn in music lessons, practice, and performance is infinitely more and greater than musicianship. It is becoming whole persons who enjoy life and upon whom we depend for our lives.