by Miriam Packard
Throughout the various periods of the history of America – Colonial, Revolutionary, Civil War, Reconstruction, Industrial and Modern, there is music. . . fiddle music from Scotland and Ireland for dancing and other social entertainments; fife and drum music for military uses; banjo, guitar, harmonica, plucked dulcimer, hammered dulcimer (a totally American instrument) for Southern and Western music that accompanied the settlement of the Midwest, Great Plains and the Southwest; church music, and songs of social conscience and/or protest providing the sonic backdrop for the Labor Union movement of the 1930s; the Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960s. Music figures prominently into all aspects of America’s history, it is something that we have always had swirling around us. During the founding of our nation, music provided much of the social commentary of the day, dispensing political news and views to the colonists. When Africans were still indentured prisoners on the plantations of the South, they communicated to each other through codes carried upon field hollers and the early forms of blues.
During the Civil War and the two World Wars, American music serves as a still-living historical record of the times. In the dawn of our modern era, African Americans developed Jazz and together with a polished, electrified version of the early blues, honed the surging, ambitious, driving music of the big city, the sound of work and play far from the fields and slave days. For many Americans, after the workday or work week is finished, we have engaged ourselves with music. We have sung or been sung too, played instruments, or listened to them being played. Music is in our blood, it is a part of us. Of course, long before there was an America, music was an incredibly important tradition for humanity. Anthropologists have discovered that music is a universal trait among cultures, that wherever you go, music will be there, too.
During the turn of the 19th century into the 20th, music became a very important part of education, especially for a young girl. The piano was a prized possession and central rituals in society were played out in the parlor, where the piano was kept. A young man might call on a young girl to court her, and she would play the piano for him. While she played, he was allowed to sit beside her on the bench to turn the pages. When the radio was invented, it rapidly became a hit and soon every home had one. It was placed in the center of the living room, much as televisions are placed now, as the central source of entertainment. In the evening, the family would gather around to hear the old radio shows and listen to such great musicians such as Bing Crosby, George Gershwin and Ella Fitzgerald. As television moved in, music moved over. Elvis Presley in the 1950s and The Beatles in the early 1960s, changed the way Americans (and ultimately, the world) viewed themselves and their lives. Never before had music been as socially powerful in its influence as during the era of transition from radio to T.V.
Today we see the "logical" conclusion of what began back then: MTV "lovingly" perverts our minds with images of drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll and often music is simply providing the soundtrack for the images. We also have channels of just music, and as if that isn’t enough, we can pick a genre and listen to only that. The Internet has millions of radio options, websites for downloading music or pirating. Music has followed us through time – or maybe led us – adapting to society and technology and it will continue to do so. But as music changes, we seem to be losing our knowledge of it. Music used to be something we were educated in, something that formed pieces of our lives, while today it is more of an industry, and a passive, consumerist one at that.
The public school systems standards used to include the education requirements for music education. For example, one would have to be able to understand musical theory to a certain extent. Tragically, as funds were restricted, so were the standards for education. Music and art slowly disappeared, right along with home economics and metal shop. Today’s schools’ extracurricular activities vary according to the community. If the population served by the school has an active and effective PTA, there will be classes offered such as band or choir. If a school does not have such a PTA, with such resources, such music classes are not offered.
The importance of music in a concrete, scientific sense is one that is being thoroughly investigated and sees new research continuing today. In tests by Frances Rauscher, Ph.D. and Gordon Shaw, Ph.D., at the University of California in Irvine, music lessons have been shown to improve a child’s performance in school. Rauscher and Shaw found that after eight months of piano lessons, preschoolers tested to show a 46% boost in their IQ, which is crucial for higher brain functions such as math. It has also been found that there is a direct correlation between improved SAT scores and the length of time spent studying the arts. In the Profiles of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, they found that those who studied the arts four or more years scored 59 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on math portions of the SAT than students with no coursework or experience in the arts. (Released by the College Board, compiled by MENC, 1995). Music education improves a child’s education in general and brings meaning and expression to certain emotions that would otherwise not be expressed.
This is where one of the benefits of homeschooling can be found. When your child’s education is placed solely in your hands, you can create your own standards for education with your child in mind. This is in comparison, of course, to government-controlled curriculum, which probably had the average child in mind (and you, better than anyone, know that your child is not average). This allows the inclusion of music education, including instruction of music, theory, singing, dance, and the playing of instruments. After determining what you want your child to learn, you must figure out how to provide that musical education for your child.
The resources available to accomplish such goals are vast, ranging from the neighborhood music school to excellent learn-at-home CDs, to online courses for all levels of music study. In the next issue, we will bring you more information about studies done on music’s positive effects on the brain and how to utilize them in your homeschooling day. – M.P.
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