Keep the music playing

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Contributing Editor
Walt Pickut

Music is more than a universal language because it is more than a language. Music speaks in a voice all its own because it speaks to the heart as well as the mind. Sometimes music can say what cannot be spoken.

The oldest musical instrument ever discovered is a 60,000-year-old flute crafted by a Neanderthal hunter. The instrument has four holes pierced into the left thighbone of a young cave bear. It was discovered in the Divje Babe cave overlooking the scenic Idrijca River in Slovenia.
As a result, I believe music has never changed—not in 60,000 years—not since even before modern humans existed on our planet.

A simple definition cannot contain all that is music. It starts by saying that music is merely sound—whether made by a voice or an instrument—that creates a beauty in form and harmony, evoking emotions. That’s not wrong, but it’s no more right than saying a tornado is just a bit of wind.

Music is more. Plato called it “…a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”

Music, ultimately, is part of us. It cannot be silenced, at least not for long, and it cannot be ended.

But in that, we have a problem. It is so much a part of us—we are born able to make it ourselves—that we take it for granted, assuming it can’t be harmed.

Unfortunately, that complacency has consequences. In the first decade alone of this century school music instruction declined to the point that more than 8,000 public schools in the United States were without a music program of any kind and 1.3 million elementary school students had no access to a music class.

The problem, of course, is said to be funding. There simply is not enough money to keep a music curriculum up and running.

But “not enough money” is the same as our other most popular complaint, “there’s just not enough time.”

In fact, there’s another way to look at it. There is always time and money to do something. And we always do use up whatever time and money there is. The question is only what to spend them on. It’s often a matter of priority, not scarcity.

So, what’s the payoff for investing in music? The return on investment is almost unlimited. Consider these examples that only scratch the surface:

  • Students who take music in middle school score significantly higher on algebra assignments in 9th grade than their non-music counterparts. (artsedsearch.org)
  • Secondary students who participated in a music group at school reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances (tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs). (nammfoundation.org)
  • Schools with music programs have an estimated 90.2% graduation rate and 93.9% attendance rate compared to schools without music education, which average 72.9% graduation and 84.9% attendance. (The National Association for Music Education.)
  • Cognitive and neural benefits of musical experience continue throughout the lifespan, and counteract some of the negative effects of aging, such as memory and hearing difficulties in older adults. (Research in Otolaryngology Symposium. 2014)

So, next time our schools ask for your opinion, your vote, your investment in the future of music, remember this necessity when you set your priority.

Billy Joel once said, “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”

And along with the music, please keep enjoying the read.

Walt Pickut
Contributing Editor

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.