Last month, I wrote about my newly-waged battle with self-censorship. Earlier this month, I attempted to write about a cause near and dear to my heart...and promptly fell into my old self-censorship trap. Now, after reading the great piece Kevin McMahon did for Consequence of Sound on this same topic, I am inspired to re-learn my lesson and get my thoughts in just under the wire.
What's your favorite song? Record? Artist? Live act? Best concert you ever went to? Think about each of those for a minute. Think about the first time you ever heard your favorite song. Think about the first album you bought. About following along with the lyrics sheet as you kept the album on repeat, either lost in your headphones or driving your parents/roommates/neighbors crazy. Think about your first concert. And your first mind-blowing concert. Think, for a minute, about how music has impacted your life.
In 1985, after 12 years as a single, state-wide advocacy day in New York, March was designated Music in Our Schools month by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). Given the litany of other monikers bestowed upon the month of March, this particular label may not be as well known in some circles, but in recent years, through my involvement with a Chicago nonprofit organization called Foundations of Music (FoM), it has become, to me, the month's defining characteristic.
According to NAfME's website, Music in Our Schools Month "engages music educators, students and communities from around the country in promoting the benefits of high quality music education programs in schools." FoM, is an organization which provides music education to over 5,000 students in more than 25 Chicago Public Schools, largely in underserved areas. For the past several years, FoM has supported and promoted Music in Our Schools Month through awareness and fundraising campaigns for their music education programs.
As a member of the Junior Board of Foundations of Music, I have participated in Music In Our Schools Month campaigns since 2010, but it is only this year, as part of a broader personal goal to be more reflective and thoughtful in how I participate in the world, that I have spent much time thinking about the significance of an organization like Foundations of Music, an endeavor like Music in Our Schools Month, and what draws me to both.
I am the oldest of four daughters born to two intense music enthusiasts. My dad, a guitar player with an extensive record collection and encyclopedic knowledge of everything Beatles, never hesitates to share music he loves or seek out new recommendations. My mom, if asked, will tell you passionately, and in no uncertain terms, why Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis are some of the best things to ever happen to the world. I don't remember a time when I didn't know who Van Morrison, Bob Dylan or The Beatles were. Christmastime didn't just mean Santa's impending visit and endless hours browsing through the J.C. Penny catalog -- it meant it was time to bust out the Bing Crosby Christmas album. Music was an integral part of my life since before I was entirely conscious of what it meant to be alive, is what I'm saying.
I know, therefore, that I am predisposed to a belief that music, and access to music and music education, is an essential component to living a fulfilled life. I am not being facetious when I say music is capable of saving, and has saved, lives. Sometimes in big, noticeable ways, sometimes in small ways only recognized later, often in ways deeply personal.
The right song at the right moment is the difference between a friendship ended and a friendship repaired. A newly discovered album becomes the soundtrack to a teenager muscling her way through an angst-ridden high school experience. A carefully-crafted playlist nurses the brokenhearted through a breakup, enhances a wedding reception, turns a backyard bonfire into a lasting memory, honors loved ones as we say goodbye to them.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" blasted through a crowded college apartment, invites a sing-along which unites 50 tangential friends in one goal: Live up to Wayne and Garth's legacy.
There is something of magic in two sisters with usually disparate tastes discovering their mutual love for T. Rex, in a father and daughter bonding over self-taught guitar victories, in the first time a young musician hears applause for a song he wrote in his backyard.
These magical moments, though, are largely privileged moments. These moments only come to be when the people experiencing them have access to records that peak their interest, or instruments, or education that allows them to continue on their path of musical discovery. Not everyone is so lucky. Too many young people are denied the chance to learn about classical composers, musical styles and traditions from around the world, how music has impacted our cultures and the role it has played in our history.
As budgets have been slashed and the arts have been devalued, music education has been evicted. It has been left to organizations such as Foundations of Music to fill the void, so that students who might otherwise go without music education, and all of the benefits that stem from it, have the access and opportunity they deserve.
My interest in access to music education is both selfish and altruistic, if that is possible. I want to live in a world that is rich with creative expression, where I benefit because new music is available for me to enjoy because a student was able to take a songwriting workshop and blossomed into an innovative musician. I also just think that everyone deserves the opportunity to learn about things that interest them, and to excel in their learning and experiences through the benefits that come with music education and having creative outlets.
March is coming to a close, and Music in Our Schools Month is winding down, but music in our schools should not be.
Think about your favorite song, musician, album or concert. Think about how music has impacted your life. Now think about if it hadn't.