learning music

I’m in a play-it-again concert band like these New Horizons bands.. One of the musicians just sent this thank-you out to us:

Today I pass the three quarter century mark and I want to tell you all how appreciative I am of being able to make organized sound with you. Music is a life sport. When you become too fragile to stay with the NFL, it’s time to renew our acquaintance with the horn (or swyonette). Let’s hope the schools don’t do away with music. That would be a tragedy bigger than cancelling football.

I wholeheartedly share the sentiment, but my conclusion is 180-degrees out.

Outside of the public school model, and prior to its existence, people of all ages learned things when they were ready. When an idea or activity captured their imagination, they grabbed the opportunity to learn with gusto. Today, passion, enthusiasm and personal interest are actively discouraged.

Rather than by interest or aptitude, children are grouped by age. Instead of by skill or talent, their progress is mapped at a pace that can be achieved by the slowest child in each subject. Boredom is dealt with by pressure, punishment or prescription. Following their own interests outside of school is severely restricted by the laying on of homework that extends the outwardly-directed-model of training to include most waking hours for these growing, forming, shaping, otherwise creative minds.

The child prodigy, in order to pursue his passion, needs also be a rebel. In our current child-rearing model, rebels get caught and brought back into line by truancy law enforcement and school record keepers.

From a recent study: “It looks as if the brain is making more synapses than it needs during development, and scrapping those that, for whatever reason, don’t help many based on early experience.”

How many synapses are scrapped by the time we finally are allowed educational and expressive freedom? In the years the brain is growing and forming a lifetime supply, the unfortunate answer is: most of them.

What are we missing?

In 1782, before the age of 12, Beethoven published his first work, 9 Variations in C Minor, for piano. In June 1784 Ludwig Van Beethoven, was appointed organist of the court of Maximillian Franz, Elector of Cologne. He was 14 years-old.

Daniel Barenboim was invited to perform the Beethoven First Piano Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic at age 11.

At three years old, Mozart often spent much time at the clavier, picking out thirds, which he was ever striking, and his pleasure showed that it sounded good. In the fourth year of his age his father, for a game as it were, began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier. He could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time. At the age of five, he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father who wrote them down.

Cy Coleman (June 14, 1929 – November 18, 2004) was an American composer, songwriter, and jazz pianist. He was a child prodigy who gave piano recitals at Steinway Hall, Town Hall, and Carnegie Hall between the ages of six and nine.

Consuelo Velázquez: Began playing at age four; performed piano concerto at age six; wrote Bésame Mucho at age sixteen.

Is there room for exceptional kids in our current model? The inventors, creators and problem solvers are TRAINED to read, listen and recite for the first twelve years of their “EDUCATION“. Think about the difference between those two words. It is huge … and hugely significant.

Were I to build a model for learning and sharing music, age would not be a factor at all. Neither would certificates requiring the person who teaches the playing of trombones to have completed 18,000 hours of completely unrelated classroom attendance. Bands would form based on proximity, access and interests. I would happily sit in the trombone section next to a 12-year old. What we could learn from each other … oh my gosh, we could literally learn WORLDS from each other.

And therein lies the most egregious damage of our system: The tearing asunder of a homogeneous society. The young, exuberant, enthusiastic and energetic NEED to be around the old, slowing, experienced and thoughtful of their species.

No, Joe, I cannot agree that music in the schools is a good idea. The good news is that we happily agree football in the schools is even less important than that.