Why music education needs to stay in our schools

I had my first piano lesson when I was three years old. Notwithstanding my stubborn impatience at the time, I believe my parents had good intentions introducing me to music at such an early age. Years later, as part of my grade 6 to 8 school curriculum, I was fortunate enough to learn trumpet; I participated in senior and jazz bands which took me across the province for a number of competitions and workshops.

As I grew up, I really wanted to learn guitar. My wish came true, on my birthday one year, when I received my first acoustic six string. Years of private lessons coupled with John McCrae Secondary School’s music program allowed me to continue my musical education throughout high school. Finally, during my time at the University of Ottawa, I started giving lessons to my own handful of keen students.

Becoming a music teacher makes you see the impact and importance of music education from a renewed perspective. It certainly opens your eyes to the limited amount of resources we have, whether it’s properly qualified teachers or well-invested music programs in our schools, and how we ought to protect those resources from becoming even scarcer in the future.

In 2010, the Coalition for Music Education Canada commissioned a survey to study the state of music education in 1,204 schools across the country. Looking at Ontario specifically, their findings were unwelcoming: funding decreased more (26%) than it improved (18%) over the past two or three years; the number of specialist teachers decreased (20%), as well as did schools’ participation in festivals (25%). Nevertheless, there were some promising changes in our province: 36% of Ontario schools had an increase in artist visits, while 35% saw improvements in music-related technology.

It cannot be emphasized enough how important music education is to the development of a child’s academic and expressive well-being. Simply put, music makes us smarter; it sharpens the senses, enhances emotional intellect and the ability to focus, while increasing the capacity for learning new languages. Research exists that claims continuous musical study into adulthood can help prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Recent announcements surrounding the 2012 provincial budget warn that more school closures are coming. School board grants and incentives will be cut to help slay the deficit. Will public music education be affected? Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has repeated that music programs have returned to curriculums under his government’s tenure and “our goal is to protect that.”

With the budget being passed last Tuesday, I hope, for the sake of current and prospective music students, it’s a promise Mr. Duncan is willing to keep.