“If you don’t educate in the arts, then there are some pieces of the person that you’re missing; specifically as it relates to music. And as music educators, we’ve known this without having any empirical data, but there has been so many studies that have been done that have shown that students who are involved with music excel in other academic areas,” said Grand Rapids High School Choir Director Scott Shrimpton.
“Basically, all other academic areas,” he added.
Sounds like something out of a science fiction story, where leading scientists just happened to stumble upon a drug that makes people stronger in all conceivable ways, and yet has no negative side effects. But this is almost exactly the situation we find ourselves in regarding our educational system and the teaching of music. In the movies, government officials couldn’t be more excited about such a discovery, though in reality, music is still a classroom discipline that often has to fight tooth and nail for funding.
The state of Minnesota as fared far better than many others in this country in terms of cuts made to music education, and in Grand Rapids particularly, the music education program within ISD 318 has certainly thrived over the years, even throughout some of the worst in terms of budget. But given what is known about how music positively affects young minds, there’s still a surprising lack of resources put toward music programs across the board. This is part of the reason why the Music Makes Me Whole initiative was formed; a growing coalition consisting of dozens of organizations that largely deal with music, but also of companies that recognize the immense value that music has in education and communities.
Co-lead by the Minnesota Music Educators Association (MMEA) and Classical Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), Music Makes Me Whole started with a series of talks about two years ago that focused on shared interests amongst individuals from different music-based organizations. The coalition has grown from there, currently at 31 organizational members, taking on the form of a grassroots movement to initiate conversations on the importance of music education within communities throughout the state.
“We’re not specifically saying that ‘you have to do this thing in your school.’ What we’re saying is music has all these benefits for kids, and it benefits the community as a whole too,” said MMEA Executive Director Mary Schaefle. “It enriches the community and it enriches the child’s life.”
Since the coalition is in an early stage, Schaefle said that the current goal is to simply get people to talk more about music and the importance of quality music education, with the long-term goal of ensuring that every child has access to musical training in their school. The next step, she added, was for the coalition to get together to figure out what the next step is.
“We looked nation-wide and talked to a number of other organizations, and there’s nobody doing anything like this that we could find. So in some ways, we’re creating it as we go,” said Schaefle.
The coalition has developed a few tools to help interested individuals get involved, which are found on the website musicmakesuswhole.org. They include a map of schools throughout the state, as well as a sample template for emails to send to school principals about the importance of music education.
Locally, Shrimpton and Grand Rapids High School Band Director Dale Gunderson generally feel as if they’re in a good spot, relatively speaking. They recognize the high value that the greater community puts on the arts, and specifically the value put on having music in the schools.
“There are so many colleagues and friends that I have all over the country that don’t have the administrative and community support that we do. We’re extremely blessed with that,” said Gunderson.
But despite that recognition, they know there’s still work to be done. As an example, Gunderson said that the sixth grade band at Robert J. Elkington Middle School consists of 182 students, but only has one director. And in the elementary schools, Gunderson added that music is taught only every other day, and only for about a half hour.
“I think that is probably a national norm in schools,” said Gunderson.
When asked whether or not they felt that was insufficient, given what was known about the benefits of music education, both Gunderson and Shrimpton fully agreed that it should be an every day class in elementary. But once in middle school and high school, the vast majority of students in the district have some level of music education. And at minimum, all students have the option to be in band or choir. That also means that a total of nine music educators in Grand Rapids are educating nearly every student from kindergarten through 12th grade. Whereas it would be a benefit to increase that number of teachers, Gunderson and Shrimpton both know that each of the nine teachers are extremely proud and happy to be doing that job.
The cultural importance of music and music education should be beyond dispute. But in case it’s not, Gunderson distilled the point very succinctly:
“When Toyota and Ford and Dodge come out with a car without a radio in it, then I’ll believe that music education doesn’t have to be around.”
Posted on www.grandrapidsmn.com Wednesday, January 14, 2015 8:28 am | Updated: 9:00 am, Thu Jan 15, 2015.
By Nathan Bergstedt Herald-Review