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Interactive contemporary musicianship courses incorporating the piano as practical instrument

Music makes us whole

Can musical training improve an ACT score?

Can musical knowledge help a person be a better problem solver?

Can a musical background help someone make more money in a future job?

According to members of the Minnesota Music Educators Association (MMEA), the answer to all of the above is yes!

MMEA and Classical Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) believe that the benefits of music learning extend far beyond the classroom.

The two organizations are co-leading the Music Makes Us Whole initiative, which involves performing arts organizations, after school youth music groups, community music groups, music retailers and music educators.

Those involved believe that every child deserves a rich music education because of the whole-brain, whole-life benefits it provides.

While Minnesota schools have been adding teachers since 2006, the trend in music is the opposite – a decline, according to the latest data from the Minnesota Department of Education. That means larger, fewer or less frequent music classes.

“We advocate for quality music in schools not only because of the music’s intrinsic value in the human experience, but also for the whole brain and whole life benefits to the child, as well as his or her community,” said Brian Newhouse, managing director of MPR classical programming and member of the Music Makes Us Whole initiative.

This sentiment is echoed by music educators in Alexandria.

“Music teaches discipline, team building skills, cooperation, and the achievement of an art form that is intrinsic,” said Alexandria Area High School (AAHS) band teacher Todd Baser. “In Alexandria many students have benefited from a quality music experience; they can take it with them forever.”

School District 206 has a long history of strong musical offerings in its schools. Currently, there are more than 1,000 students in grades 6-12 involved in some sort of music class at the middle and/or high school level.

“For many students, music has become an essential part of their day and lives,” said orchestra director Brad Lambrecht. “It allows them to focus their minds, bodies, and souls in a different and meaningful way.”

Music teaches life lessons

Andrew Storm, a senior at AAHS, has been playing the tenor saxophone since sixth grade and has been a choir member for five years.

He grew up listening to his mother, a band director, play the tenor sax. “I always listened to her play, and then listened to my older brother play at his concerts, and I wanted to play too,” he recalled.

Storm received Superior ratings at band solo competitions the last three years, earning a perfect score at this year’s contest.

Music isn’t his only passion. He’s also been involved in school tennis, cross country, SLAM and National Honor Society. But instead of considering his music work, he considers it relaxing.

“It teaches a lot of life lessons,” he said. “It teaches you the importance of practicing and preparing, but it’s also a way to let your emotions out and offers stress relief.”

Storm said his involvement in music has allowed him to meet new people and connect with others more easily.

He recently auditioned for a music scholarship at Concordia College in Moorhead and is waiting to hear the results, but is hopeful he will be studying music there next year.

Music can turn your day around

Senior Haley Wagner is involved in several musical groups at AAHS, including Concert Choir, Select Women’s Choir, Carolers/Pop Group, Les Marquis, Symphonia Orchestra and Rainbow Strings. During first semester, she was also in the Philharmonia Orchestra.

She plays the violin, cello and piano, and sings every chance she gets. “I’ve been singing since I was really little,” she said. “Music has always been a big part of my life.”

When asked what she likes most about music, she replied, “Everything! It’s so amazing! It’s therapeutic. I can be having the worst day, and if I sing or play something, it can turn the whole day around.”

Wagner said music has given her confidence and has helped with her communication skills. “You can relate to almost anybody just by talking about music,” she said.

She is considering studying performing arts next year and has looked at options from New York to Los Angeles. “There are so many options! But it will definitely be music-related. I don’t think my heart would be happy with anything else.”

Music is for everyone

AAHS senior Alex Plasky has participated in school choir since ninth grade. “I used to pass by the choir room and listen to people singing,” he recalled. “I wasn’t much of a singer, but I decided to give it a shot.”

With the help of choir director Steve Deitz, Plasky soon realized he couldn’t just sing, but he was pretty good at it. He is currently a member of the Concert Choir and was recently named to the All-Conference Choir.

“I definitely have enjoyed it,” he said of singing. “There’s so much you can do with it. I’m learning new things all of the time.”

He has participated in solo and ensemble competitions, receiving excellent and superior ratings, and is a student adjudicator, working with other students to improve their musical abilities.

“Before my accident I tried the sax and piano and played guitar,” said Plasky, who is in a wheelchair. “Now I only have a lower diaphragm – it’s half gone – so that makes it a little more challenging to sing.

“Some people say they can’t sing, but I definitely believe anyone can work on their singing.”

When asked about Deitz’s leadership, Plasky replied, “I love him. He’s just incredible. He has really motivated me to spend extra time and work hard to improve.”

Plasky said he definitely plays to “keep singing” after high school.


• Music training stimulates every region of the brain.

• Students with one or more year of high school music experience earn higher ACT scores – 4 percent in math and 7 percent in English.

• Low income students who took music lessons in grades 8-12 saw math, reading, history, geography and social skills soar by 40 percent compared to non music students.

• Reports from the National Endowment of the Arts found that at-risk youth with access to school arts programs also have higher career goals and are more civically engaged.

• Music students gain skills sought out by employers, such as teamwork, communication and problem solving.

• 83 percent of adults with incomes higher than $150,000 participated in music as youths.

Article by Tara Bitzan,,