Music makes world go ’round
Imagine a world without music without choirs, or bands, or orchestras, or singing.
“Perhaps the basic reason that every child must have a music education is that music is a part of the fabric of our society,” said band teacher Bill Toovey.
With the Colorado governor’s office putting a new emphasis on grading schools based on student’s test scores instead of the overall curriculum, many teachers are concerned about the future of quality in education.
“There is a danger of losing music and the arts in schools,” said choir teacher David Hurst. “If students don’t do well on their CSAP testing, one of the things that would happen is the state would do away with things like physical education, music, art, wood shop and culinary arts to allow the kids to study math, science and reading more.”
“I’m all for accountability in the schools,” Hurst continued, “but the benefits of the arts far outweigh what they would gain by taking away the arts. I think it’s incredibly important to keep music in the public schools.”
Toovey agrees. “Music provides a different outlet for kids that doesn’t involve sitting at a desk,” he said.
“The arts stimulate things in the brain and in our lives that don’t get stimulated by the sciences,” Hurst said. “The arts can be such a positive aspect of kids’ lives that it would be a shame if they were taken away.”
Hurst directs choral music for grades six through 12 in Moffat County, rotating among three schools every day.
“I think of it as one big program because I see and teach these kids for seven years,” Hurst said. “I get to work with them and watch their music develop and mature.”
Hurst’s music curriculum builds a foundation for learning and appreciating music. In the sixth grade, he begins teaching singing in unison and partner songs. In middle school seventh and eighth grades the focus is on harmony. In high school, the level of complexity and challenge to students rises, and he tries to introduce as many musical genres and time periods as he can, exposing students to a broad spectrum of the musical world.
“It’s kind of fun to see them move from young kids to young adults and then go out on their own,” he said.
Hurst graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1998 with a bachelor of arts degree in music education. He came to the Moffat County School District in the spring of 1999 with his wife, Melanie, and their two young children, Lauren and Zachary. Music has always been an integral part of Hurst’s life. The youngest of four siblings, his family was “very musical.” He grew up in Sheridan, Wyo., which he describes as “an older community where the arts are supported.”
Craig is a lot like his own hometown, Hurst said. “But I enjoy the fact it is smaller. You really get a community feel from the people here. The area is just beautiful,” he said. “And I’m very pleased with the facilities and support from the community in Craig. The concerts are well attended.”
Hurst believes music is important for all people. He wants to encourage the arts in Craig, and to create an outlet for community members who want to continue in music, as well as create a place to sing.
As part of a first step in that direction, Hurst will teach a spring semester course in community chorus at Colorado Northwest Community College (CNCC). “This course is an application of the fundamentals of music for performance, plus introduction to basic technique, repertoire, and sight-reading,” said CNCC Community Relations Director Mary Morris. “This is truly an exciting activity for all adult members of the Craig community.”
Community chorus participants will learn to read music and focus on general rehearsal, concert material, basic music theory and vocal technique. They will present one public performance in the Spring.
“I would hope the course would hold more challenges than high school,” he said. “But that would be left up to the ability of the choir and we certainly wouldn’t rehearse as much as we do in school, which is every day.”
Hurst believes music gives people, especially youth, a positive way to express themselves. “It builds self-esteem. It’s a way for kids to learn about teamwork especially those who aren’t in sports. Studies show music stimulates the same side of the brain as math and science do,” he said.
According to 1999 statistics compiled by the National Data Resource Center (NDRC), students with course work or who have experience in music performance or music appreciation scored significantly higher on the verbal and math for music components of the SAT test than students with no arts participation. The 1998 NDRC statistics showed that music participants received more academic honors and awards than non-music students, and the percentage of music participants receiving “A” and “B” grades in all classes was much higher than non-music students.
Students who participated in arts programs in New York showed significant increases in self-esteem and thinking skills, according to a 1990 National Arts Education Research Center study. Physician and biologist Lewis Thomas found that 66 percent of music majors who applied to medical school were admitted; the highest percentage of any group of majors. A team exploring the link between music and intelligence in 1997 reported that music training is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children’s abstract reasoning skills, which are necessary for learning math and science. A University of California (Irvine) study showed that after eight months of keyboard lessons, preschoolers showed a 46 percent boost in their spatial reasoning I.Q. A study by Dr. Frederick Tims, reported in a 1999 issue of AMC Music News, showed music boosts the health of older people. Following music lessons, there were significant decreases in anxiety, depression and loneliness, and significant increases in secretion of a human growth hormone that stimulates the immune system. A lack of the hormone is implicated in aches and pains as people grow older.
Music is a life-long encounter. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who is now retired from the U.S. Army, once described it this way: “I have shared my love of music with people throughout this world while listening to the drums and special instruments of the Far East, Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean and the Far North and all of this started with the music appreciation course that I was taught in a third-grade elementary class in Princeton, N.J. What a tragedy it would be if we lived in a world where music was not taught to children.”
Hurst doesn’t grade his students on the quality of their voice. “That’s not important to me,” he said. “What’s important is that they enjoy themselves.” When it comes time to grade, Hurst looks at how well his students have learned how to read music, learned music theory, and if they attended extra-curricular concerts. “Their final test is the performance,” he said.
“I believe kids in music do better in other things because they belong to a group and therefore have a purpose for going to school,” Hurst said. “Parents in Craig tell me if it weren’t for music classes, their kids wouldn’t even want to come to school.”
“The inclusion of the arts in every student’s education can sometimes be relegated to a distant wish rather than an exciting reality,” Toovey said. “It doesn’t have to be that way. All that’s needed is a clear message sent to all those who must make the hard choices involved in running a school or school system to send the message that music programs in the schools help our kids and communities in real and substantial ways.”
Hurst wants music to be a life-long experience for his students. He believes music is an outlet for adults to express themselves. “Why do we have to quit singing just because we leave high school?” he asked.
“I want the community of Craig to be able to continue to sing and have good experiences,” Hurst said.
For registration information about the spring course at CNCC, call 824-7071. If interested in helping Hurst create a permanent community chorus in Craig, contact him at his home, 824-5393, or at the high school, 824-7036, Ext. 1130, or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org