Not long ago I ran into a former private student. On break from college she excitedly shared her music experiences. I listened proudly until I heard she was a music ed major. That's when my heart sank. I should be happy that she wants to share her passion. But it won't be long before she's looking for employment…and then what?
I live in a district that last year, eliminated all band and orchestra classes at the elementary level. Forty-six elementary schools in all--just imagine how many children are impacted. In early 2010 the district opened a community survey. This question about elementary instrumental programs was answered only by parents who had children participating in elementary music at that time: If a fee of $100-150 to participate in an Instrumental Music Program that meets 2-3 times per week is implemented, would your child continue to participate? The survey results? Yes: 1465. No: 1833. Underwhelming support by 44% of a small, select group. By the time our district eliminated the classes this group had already moved up to middle school.
Why do we need instrumental music? I have a better question: Why do we need high test scores in math and reading? Sadly, it's not about our kids; though they are the ones who suffer from lost opportunities. And in turn, our future will lack adults who can creatively problem-solve.
I read an article today "Trimming Music Ed in the Schools is a Mistake," by Mark George, president and CEO of the Music Institute of Chicago, writing as a guest columnist in the Chicago Tribune. "The arts provide a depth of understanding and even the basis for understanding for some children on their long road to achievement. And perhaps most important, the arts provide a way for children to envision the possibilities of a world outside of their immediate circumstances."
I'd like to think that loss creates space for growth, change and improvement. But my inner cynic sees little hope of ever bringing these lost classes back into the curriculum. Lost classes strike me as lost opportunities. I learned viola in an orchestra class in 4th grade so it's hard for me to imagine a different way. Or a better way. Luckily for my district there is a ray of hope. Thanks to the perseverance of one teacher whose job was eliminated there is an alternative for many of these students: fee-based before and after school band and orchestra classes. It's a great start.
It was a great article to read on a Monday. "Where do good ideas come from?" a book review posted by The Improvised Life blog. Steven Berlin Johnson's book, "Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation" suggests innovation is not only a collaborative effort it's also sparked by what we do during our down time. And that got me thinking. While I worked on the day's and the week's "to do" list I was also inspired to fit some more play into my days.
Several years ago I read a terrific article about devoting 10% of your life to what you truly love. That has been a great source of inspiration. Think about it. Ten percent of a 16 hour day is about an hour and a half. Ten percent of a year is 36 1/2 days. Most of us don't have an extra month of time off. But look at it this way. If you could spend even an hour a day doing what you loved most how would you use your time? A recent example that I found delightful is the Ohio State fan who devoted 2 years worth of his off hours to build a replica of the school's horseshoe-shaped stadium with Legos. How fun is that?
Johnson also talked about Google employees who are given 20% of each work day to devote to their own creative projects--and that's where half of Google's innovations begin. My favorite "finding your inner artist book," The Artist's Way asks you to go on weekly dates, with yourself. The purpose--to take a break, have some fun and recharge. Think of it as making the opportunity for inspiration.
How to fit it in? I won't say it's easy but I will guarantee it's worth the effort. Like anything new it helps to start small. Getting started is the key. Take 10 or 15 minutes each day to figure out what you love. Then keep that 15 minutes in your day to start on your idea. Or take a short artist date this week just to try it. Remember: twenty one days makes it a habit. My students who may be reading this already have the right idea--recess! For those of us who have only faded memory of the playground, let's make a pact to have more fun.