March is Music in Our Schools month, according to the National Association for Music Education. The group's effort is meant to highlight the importance of music education to all students. But I can tell you, music education is not just important. It can be the difference-maker for many kids.
Not every family can afford private lessons or expensive instruments. For a lot of children, the only opportunity they have to explore the world music opens to them is in a public school setting. There is no question I would not be the person I am today, or see the world the way I do, had it not been for passionate music teachers and band directors. (Though I will say I could do without the part of who I am that STILL has to resist the urge to snap to attention whenever I hear sounds that resemble the banging of a woodblock.)
Children who receive music education in school or, even better, participate in activities such as choir or marching and concert band, receive a host of benefits: discipline, coordination, confidence, critical and creative thinking, improved listening and concentration and, of course, artistic expression. Many studies have shown that high school students who take music classes have higher grade point averages than students who do not. In fact, a study conducted in the 1980s showed the difference is significant. Music students had an overall grade point average of 3.59, at one high school, while non-music students at the same school had an overall average of 2.91.
Changes in school budgets mean some believe they should place a lower priority on music and art education. That's a shame. It has been too easy for school systems to forget the good things music does for a child's brain that, in turn, enhance the education they are receiving in subjects such as math and science. Adding a little music to a student's day will improve test scores, not hurt them. Many of those in a position to be cutting music programs today could use a reminder of the degree to which their own educations were enhanced by the music and art classes most of us received during our school days.
Parkersburg will get a fantastic reminder of the benefits of a music education March 15, when the U.S. Air Force Heritage Ramblers take the stage at the Smoot Theatre on Fifth Street. As Felice Jorgeson, executive director of the Smoot, noted a few days ago, everyone who will appear on that stage had the benefit of a music education from great teachers.
The Heritage Ramblers are a five-piece combo, with a mission to preserve traditional jazz styles, such as Dixieland or Chicago. Band leader Tech. Sgt. John Garcia, Master Sgt. Jennifer Dashnaw, Staff Sgt. James Lantz, Master Sgt. Mathew Dunsmore, Staff Sgt. Timothy Rogers and Staff Sgt. Darren Raybourne clearly received a good - and probably early - foundation in music that was so significant it affected the course of their lives.
Now, because they had access to music education, they can bring the sounds of artists such as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Jack Teagarden and Bix Beiderbecke to audiences. Tickets for the event at the Smoot are free, and can be picked up at the theater, here at The News and Sentinel office, or at the band offices at either Parkersburg or Parkersburg South high schools. If you want to get a sense of the role public school music education has played in the lives of some local students, I recommend the high schools.
But wherever you'd like to pick up your tickets, please, join us at 7:30 p.m. March 15 to enjoy what promises to be a wonderful evening of music. If hearing the results of many years of music education resonates with and inspires you, carry that with you as a reminder next time you run across an opportunity to support, or, dare I hope, expand music programs in our schools.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org