Jazz Performance and Education Centre

Music & Education

Recently, the Globe and Mail published the article, "Music Classes Taking a Beating in Ontario Schools". This was based on 2013 Annual Report published by the education advocacy group, People for Education. The full report is worth reading and is available on their website, www.peopleforeducation.ca. One particular quote from this report resonated: "When arts are treated simply as enrichment, they are particularly vulnerable to cuts in funding from the province or the school board".

While this observation was made in the context of education in Ontario, it transcends provincial and national borders. We commonly hear that music programs are victims of cutbacks with the squeezing of education budgets. This is sometimes supported by the notion of implementing educational curriculum that "gets back to basics".

In reality, the value of music education goes well beyond a nice add-on to child education and development, it is just as fundamental as the time honoured "3 R’s". There have been a wide range of scientific studies that speak to this. A CBC report in 2006 cited a McMaster University study on the effects of music in child learning development. Among the many positive effects, the study found particular changes in the attention systems of children who took music lessons, which affected their ability to pay attention to important things around them. "A child with a superior attention system will be able to apply that in different domains, so they'll be able to focus in on what's important in a verbal learning task, they'll be able to concentrate when figuring out a mathematical problem."

Additionally, the process of learning a musical instrument and playing with others evolves a number of skills that are fundamentally necessary not only in their remaining academic years, but their future occupations. Playing music demands dedication, discipline, and teamwork. It requires commitment to practice and rehearsing to execute a musical performance. Music also requires students to approach problem solving in creative and imaginative ways, requiring both linear and non-linear thinking. Music does not have only one right answer.

The act of analyzing music and the strategy of performance requires the same characteristics as those common to business leadership. This is brilliantly expounded in the book "Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz Improvisation" by Frank J. Barrett, Professor of Management in the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School. A summary of his thesis is available on the CNN website, www.cnn.com/2013/02/21/opinion/route-to-top-jazz-business-success.

Even recognizing the importance of maintaining music programs within the education system, it is equally necessary to draw support from any number of external resources. Music specialists can augment the academic programs through their ability to delve more deeply into various musical cultures, history, and performance. In working directly with schools, JPEC sponsors musical performances and discussions using highly credentialed musicians from the local community. This is a basic tenet of JPEC.

Quite simply, better music education means better education.

Bill McDonald, JPEC Director
June 4, 2013