By Karen Hendricks
It’s Teacher Appreciation Week and as a twist on this popular observance, I thought I’d pay homage to the “unsung heroes” (pun alert) of the teaching force: music teachers. Personally, I believe my arts teachers (music, writing and visual art included) had a greater influence on my development and career path than any other. Their gifts and impact were long-lasting… the ability to think creatively, approaching issues/problems in a creative way, and gaining the confidence to express myself through music, art or words (this blog is a case in point!).
I see my children soaking up “the arts” like sponges, with positive results as well. Some of my completely unscientific observations include:
- Practicing music requires discipline, time management and helps children see how their one “voice” (be it their actual voice or their instrument) fits into the overall team effort of a chorus, orchestra or band. (Much like sports… but we’ll get to that later.)
- The arts offer a creative outlet—a way to express your emotions, be it pure joy, anger or sorrow, for example. What an amazing boost to children’s emotional health!
- Self-confidence is built through the arts. Whether your children are singing, dancing, playing music, or exhibiting artwork for an audience, they learn to face their fears associated with the spotlight, let their talents shine, and feel a sense of accomplishment.
So what do the experts say? Can music (and all the arts) truly have this kind of impact? Yes—and they go even further. According to Americans for the Arts:
- “Thinking skills (sometimes referred to as cognitive skills) is a broad term that refers to the operation of various thought processes. Reasoning ability, intuition, perception, imagination, inventiveness, creativity, problem-solving skills and expression are among the thought processes associated with study of the arts.”
- “In an experimental research study of high school age students, those who studied dance scored higher than nondancers on measures of creative thinking, especially in the categories of fluency, originality and abstract thought. Whether dancers can use their original abstract thinking skills in other disciplines is an important area of exploration.”
- “Certain arts activities promote growth in positive social skills, including self-confidence, self-control, conflict resolution, collaboration, empathy and social tolerance. Research evidence demonstrates these benefits apply to all students, not just the gifted and talented.”
- “Certain types of music instruction help develop the capacity for spatial temporal reasoning, which is integral to the acquisition of important mathematics skills. Spatial temporal reasoning refers to the ability to understand the relationship of ideas and objects in space and time. The association between music and mathematics achievement is an area of great research interest. A recent literature review turned up over 4,000 published and unpublished references on this topic alone.”
- “Certain forms of arts instruction enhance and complement basic reading skills, language development and writing skills. For example, dance has been employed to develop reading readiness in very young children, and the study of music has provided a context for teaching language skills.”
- “The relationship between drama and the development of literacy skills among young children is well documented… dramatic enactment can make a measurable difference in helping students reach such important curricular goals as story understanding, reading comprehension and topical writing skills.”
- To read the entire report by Americans for the Arts, Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Students, click here.
There are so many additional studies and statistics out there! A few more benefits specific to music include:
- Music is one of the few activities that affect our entire brain, both the left and right sides. So people who frequently listen to and/or play music are able to learn new information faster than those without music in their lives. This is especially true of people, children or adults, learning a language.
- Music is recognized for having healing powers, as listening to music releases the hormone endorphin, which relieves pain.
- Listening to music also is said to be a stress-reliever, as it decreases the cortisol hormone level and boosts the immune system.
- Music aids athletes and physical activity. Exercise and workouts are more enjoyable, leading to greater stamina, when music is played. And when music is played in rehab centers, people with movement disorders achieve better results.
Which brings me to my next point. Tackling a stereotype, too often sports-oriented families look down upon the arts and vice versa, too often arts-oriented families speak ill of athletics. Perhaps some feel that when schools spend money on athletics, it is to the detriment of the arts programs and vice versa. I wish we could all embrace the positive attributes of both, and not see either program suffer. For a long time, we’ve been hearing news regarding funding for arts programs decreasing in the public schools. It seems as though funding for athletics just recently came under the knife as well. Can we please mend fences and recognize the value of both the arts and athletics?
On a bright note (another pun alert), did you hear the news story out last week, about the turnaround experienced at one elementary/intermediate school when funding previously earmarked for security guards was instead funneled into arts education? Click here for the story on NBC News.
Lessons in Lyrics
And I’ll leave you with additional, completely unscientific but memorable life lessons I learned from one exceptional junior high music teacher, dear Mrs. Kuszyk. Not only was she our 7th grade music teacher, but she also led some spirited chorus and “Select Singers” afterschool rehearsals. Much of the credit for the resurfacing of these memories is owed to my fantastically talented (in all areas of the arts) friend Heather who was recently reminiscing on Facebook. The result was a mad flurry of comments and many stirred memories. Here’s what we came up with:
- One of my strongest memories from the middle school years is of Mrs. Kuszyk teaching us Harry Chapin’s song Cat’s in the Cradle, along with its ironic life lesson. If you’re not familiar… or if you’d like a trip down memory lane, click here for a You Tube clip including a brief intro and backstory by Chapin.
- There were similar life lessons gleaned from Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler. In Heather’s words, “That’s one of my favorite middle school memories. She was so passionate about that song. She wanted us to believe that most of life’s wisdom could be summed up in the chorus. She may have been right.”
- Barbra Streisand’s Memory from Cats… as well as Barbra’s The Way We Were (pretty heavy stuff for middle schoolers, now that I think about it! Can you imagine how 7th/8th graders sounded, singing those lyrics?!) were also part of her repertoire. (Misty, water-colored mem’ries… ) As a young pianist, I had the honor of accompanying the chorus and select singers. I know that Mrs. Kuszyk praised me often, however there was one time that she marched over the piano, asked me to slide over, and played a portion of The Way We Were herself. Apparently I was not playing it “tenderly” enough. She talked about the emotion and meaning in the lyrics, asking me to reflect the same sentiments through my piano notes. Needless to say, my fingers and touch lightened up a bit and tender I became. It was the only time I remember her correcting me.
- We had a lot of fun with Mrs. Kuszyk as well—One from A Chorus Line stands out in my mind. I believe Heather even danced to that one…
- What an amazing collection of songs from the era… her lessons continued through Bette Midler’s The Rose and Barry Manilow’s I Made it Through the Rain… As Heather says, “My God, it was an inspirational year!”
In case you’re wondering, “Kuszyk” rhymes with “music.” No coincidence there. She was destined to become a music teacher and share her love of musical messages. Thank you, Mrs. Kuszyk… you certainly gave us “an ace that we could keep.”
As a footnote:
I attempted to locate and contact Mrs. Kuszyk as I was writing this piece, and sadly, I learned that she passed away, almost exactly a year ago today. Her music lives on… Rest in peace and God bless you, Mrs. Kuszyk.