I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, over a decade, but I was working for a music education organization for most of that time and while I am advocating for music education in this piece, I didn’t want to be misread and offend someone so I didn’t post. Today I saw this message again and I feel led to post. Let me start off for the record saying that I hold music and all the arts, and especially those who teach it in extremely high regard, if you read through to the end, you will see that.
I saw a magnet on a car at the local convenience store today. I’ve seen it a million times before. It said “Music Makes You Smarter.” I’m not sure that’s true. I’ve always sort of wondered if it’s more like “Smarter People Make Music.” In my experience with music education students, I would say the vast majority of the students performing in school music groups, at least at the highest levels, are extremely bright students. I’m not sure that music made them that way or if they make music because they are that way. Maybe we’ll never know, but that’s not why the magnet and the stickers and the t-shirts and everything else, bugs me so much. It bugs me so much because it makes me think, “So what?”
Here’s what I mean. I can’t necessarily connect music with higher IQs at least not from a causation standpoint, but I can say this, “Music Makes You Happy” or maybe more correctly, “Music Makes You Feel.” Music connects with the vast majority of people on an emotional level more than it does an intellectual level. Think about those songs that take you back to happier days, or that connect with experiences. They engrain these things in your brain and are a constant connection to the past and sometimes even dreams for the future. As an example, every time I hear Rush’s Spirit of Radio, I am transported back to my 72 Chevelle tooling down the highway, 17 years old and dreaming of so many things. It’s a touchstone and it blesses me every single time. My question is, “Why isn’t that enough?”
I always felt sorry for the music educators I know. They always had to try to convince people that their classes made people better mathematicians, or better readers, or writers, or whatever. Again I ask “Why?” Music gives life value and meaning and even healing. It makes life better just because it’s music. That should be enough. You’ll never see a math teacher having to prove studying math makes a student a better musician, and with the emphasis on creativity in our economy, perhaps they should. You’ll never see a math or science program cut in favor of an arts program, (the inverse happens all the time) and again, as we move more into a creative economy, cutting arts programs is short sighted, maybe even idiotic.
Music and the arts make the world a better place. The solutions to most of our world’s problems (at least from a human perspective) will be found in creativity and the arts build creativity better than anything else.
I don’t really care if music makes you smarter. I just want you to make music. At the very least, it will make you feel better. At the most, it might change someone’s world.