Hindsight Really is 2020 – A Recap

The saying goes, “Hindsight is 2020,” and many of us are rejoicing that 2020 is really truly behind us! I often wonder if you were to make a list of positives and negatives of the past year, would one outweigh the other? What about 10-15 years ago? Was that just as bad, but we only choose to remember the good things from that year? I don’t know the answers to those questions.

In talking with my youngest son this weekend, he was talking about the last year and listing all of the bad things from it. I told him that is really is easy to see the bad things, the negatives, or the sadness we experienced. I challenged him to try to find some positives among the negatives. As we drove back to my house, we were able to do that. I told him it isn’t always easy to find those positives, and sometimes there may not be any, but to always look for them.

December 31, 2019

As the world awaited 2020’s arrival there was great excitement. Many said, “This is going to be MY YEAR!” Others looked at the new year as a clean slate from 2019 (which they wanted to be over). I recalled the quote from country singer Brad Paisley, who said, “Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book, write a good one.” We looked at 2020 as a year of happiness, recovery, new opportunities, new adventures, and so much more! 2020 had other plans.

2020

Looking back at 2020, the absolute high point was the birth of our daughter, Ella. NOTHING tops this moment! The blog announcing her birth was one of the most read of the year.

My first daughter. Daddy’s little girl. My wife, Sam, was just amazing throughout the delivery. It was the first time I had witnessed natural child birth and I was in awe of everything. My heart was overflowing with happiness. What a day!

This month, Sam and I were talking about what to do for her first birthday. With Covid, there is not a whole lot we can do. We are probably not going to throw the big party we wanted to, but we are working out plans for something special to mark the occasion.

Covid-19

I can’t even imagine if Ella had been born a few weeks later. By the time March arrived, the whole world was talking about Corona virus and Covid-19. Everything started to shut down in an attempt to “flatten the curve.” Our sleep labs closed and we were deployed to the hospital Labor Pool. During my time there, I heard stories and witnessed things I will sadly never forget. With a new baby at home, my constant worry was that I would bring it home to her. I eventually snapped. The doctor called it Acute Stress Disorder and she took me off work. I was out on FMLA for 6 weeks.

Finding the positive in a negative – I got to spend 6 weeks with my daughter. There are countries that allow both parents to stay home with their newborn child for a year when they are born. I wish the United Stated allowed that. There are so many wonderful moments that happen in that first year. It is a shame that we have to go back to work while our babies are still so young.

Another positive: As the curve flattened, I officiated my first wedding for my friend, Theresa from high school. To say I was nervous is an understatement, but all went well and I didn’t mess anything up too bad. It was nice to see other friends from high school at the wedding, too. It was a bit weird, as there were many masks in the crowd, but that had kind of become the “norm.”

Division and hate

2020 brought more division and more hate. There has always been division in politics, but it seems that both parties hatred for each other was over the top. I’ve heard a lot of mudslinging in ads, but the stuff being said was brutal. The politicians seem to have forgotten who they are supposed to be representing and working for – the people of the country!

Everyone was offended by everything in 2020. Social media was full of arguments, name calling, and much more. Really, the media just continued to “feed” the public and make everyone more angry than they were to begin with. Jim Morrison of the Doors once said, “Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” Noam Chomsky takes it a little further:

I had to finally stop watching the news, and scroll past so many posts from friends. I couldn’t take it. It is totally ok for you to be passionate about your beliefs and your political stance. If it is different than my stance or beliefs, that’s ok, too. You and I can agree to disagree. I was saddened that so many friendships were broken because of the difference of opinion. Friendships that have lasted 30+ years ended because of this, and that breaks my heart. If only more people thought like Thomas Jefferson:

Blog Milestones and Hits and Misses

In 2020, I celebrated two years of blogging. I wrote my 300th blog. I still wrote many movie blogs and music blogs. The music blogs slowed as I started to neglect Tune Tuesday. I tried something new with Friday Movie Quotes, but that didn’t seem to go over too well, so I stopped. Most of my blogs were ramblings about my life and of course, my daughter.

The other blog that got a lot of views was my recent blog about the loss of my friend, and high school band director, Tom Shaner. I posted a link to this on my Facebook, and his daughter also shared it, so many people I didn’t even know read it. I received a private message from his brother who told me that he really appreciated my blog and how it enlightened him on the impact he had on his students. When I finished writing that blog, I didn’t think it did him any justice, but that private message proved otherwise.

Conclusion

As I look back on 2020, I see life’s “circle.” The high point of the year was the birth of my daughter, while the low point of the year was the passing of my friend, Tom. Life and death. A new life enters the world, while an old one leaves the world. Happiness and sadness. As life moves on, the circle continues. We see new births and new deaths.

A pastor once told me that birth is the beginning of death. You begin to die the moment you are born. There is truth to that. So as we look on the new “book” that is 2021, and we begin to write on the blank pages, let’s try to remember the words of actor Michael Landon:

Here’s to a Happy New Year for all of us!

I’m Gonna Miss You, “Sir”

I’m still trying to process the loss of my friend, Tom Shaner. He passed away just before Christmas. He was my high school band director. He was more than just a friend to me (and many others). He was a mentor, a leader, a counselor, a cheerleader, a boss, a role model, an advisor, and at times, was like a second father to me.

I received word that he was in the hospital the week before Christmas. Due to Covid, no visitors were allowed. I found out afterward that he had been in ICU. Then his family announced that he was coming home to hospice care. Word came very quickly after that he had passed away. I am still in shock, as are many of his former students.

I had been watching the mailbox for a letter from him. He and I had exchanged e-mails recently and he said he was going to drop a note in the mail. I assumed that the note might be stuffed in the annual Christmas card from him. It never arrived.

My Facebook was filled with other band students remembering him. There were pictures of him and many stories, some I had heard before, some I had been in band to witness, and some I had never heard before. Those various memories from band students younger and older than me, were proof that we all shared many of the same wonderful experiences with him. They also were illustrations of the great impact that this one man had on students throughout his teaching career and far beyond.

From a previous blog:

One of the first blogs I wrote here was about the impact of teachers. I listed some of mine. Here is what I wrote about Mr. Shaner almost 3 years ago:

Mr. Shaner was my band director. If you are looking for my stance on Music Education in schools – here it is. “I LEARNED MORE TO PREPARE ME FOR LIFE FROM BAND CLASS THAN ANY OTHER CLASS IN SCHOOL”. There. I said it. I learned the importance of preparation. I learned the importance of punctuality. I learned the importance of practice. I learned the importance of team work. I learned the importance of organization. I learned the importance of patience. All of my time management skills came directly from band class. I learned about discipline and work ethic. I learned the importance of cooperation and respect. The list goes on and on. The lessons that I took from band class in itself can be an entire blog. (I can also add the importance of dedication, responsibility, self worth, dignity, and honor to this list!)

I recall one day in 9th grade, I was running late for school. I grabbed a pair of khaki pants from a basket that was in the laundry room. I walked into school and TS said “Hey, man, you know an iron can get those wrinkles out of your slacks”. Now some people might think this was mean. I didn’t take it that way. Instead, it made me aware of little things like looking good. It was a simple nudge to take an extra minute to dress right.

It was not odd for him to call someone in the office and ask if everything was ok if they looked like something was bothering them. Sometimes he would get wind of a situation someone was dealing with and he would be aware that there was a lesson in it for everyone. He would just tell some story in class with the lesson at the end and it did two things – it helped the person in the situation AND it helped the rest of us in case that situation ever popped up in our lives.

I remember one time Steve and I were goofing off during a rehearsal. It was the day before festival, so it was not the time to be fooling around. He stopped the band and asked us what was so funny. Because we did not have an answer he pointed to the door and said “Bye. I’ll see you after rehearsal”. We sat at the end of the hall and pondered how much trouble we were going to get into not only with him but with our folks. He sent Kelly, the band president down to the end of the hall to get us. He looked at us dead in the eye and said “I did not want you to go with us to festival tomorrow, but the band as a whole voted and said you should come”. He proceeded with the rehearsal. The following day, I was the first to arrive in the band room. He greeted me with a smile and I was completely confused. He was SO angry the day before. I asked if he had a second and he said to follow him to his office. He sat down and looked at me, like he had no idea why I was there. I apologized for my behavior the previous day and told him it would never happen again. He stared at me for a few seconds and got up quickly (which scared the hell out of me). He extended his hand and said, “It takes a lot of guts to admit when you are wrong. It takes a real man to apologize. Thank you for taking responsibility for your actions. I have a lot of respect for you.” He took it a step further and made sure the entire band knew what happened. He said he thought that they should know that I cared enough about them to apologize for my actions. Talk about respect? I have the utmost respect for that man and all of the lessons I still carry with me to this day. I am glad that we have remained in contact all these years later. He was a major influence in my life and in the lives of many students.

His Own Hashtag!

The one thing that showed up in almost every post about him on Facebook was how strict he was about being punctual. “If you’re on time – you’re late!” He always told us that! In other words, if rehearsal started at 4pm, you had better be in your seat with your instrument ready to play at 3:59pm (or earlier!). SO many people mentioned this in their posts. I chuckled and thought he would think it was great that the hashtag #ifyoureontimeyourelate was in almost all of these posts!

The Band Room

The band room represented a safe haven for most of us. It was like a family gathering place. Almost everyone hung out there before and after school. Most of us ate lunch there, too. We did homework there, we talked about life there, we laughed there, and we cried there. Many of us never used our lockers because we kept most of our stuff in the band room!

Mr. Shaner always had something playing over the speakers in the band room in the morning. Sometimes it was just the classical music station, while other times it was an album featuring artists like Maynard Ferguson and Doc Severinsen. I was introduced to so many great albums by hearing them in the band room.

Many student’s first stop was the band room every day. We’d drop our instruments off in the instrument storage room and walk over the the white grease board where Mr. Shaner wrote all the announcements. At the bottom of that board, he always had some quote. The one I remember most hits me a bit hard with his passing: “Live every day as if it were your last – someday, you’ll be right.”

In my senior year, I was the Band President. All the officers had mailboxes in his office. He would often write notes for all of us on Post It notes and stick them in our mailbox. Mine often read simply “See me”. Sometimes, the sticky note was stuck to some flyer or something and it would read “See me on this!” Every now and then, an officer would find a page from the Far Side calendar in their mailbox, just because.

I had a typing class my senior year. I hated it. I would get my work done early and I would sit there for the rest of the hour doing nothing. Eventually I’d as the teacher for a pass to go to the band room to work on stuff I needed to get done. This became a habit and one day I walked to his desk and before I could ask he said, “No. You may not have a pass to the band room.” I looked at him and said, “I was hoping you could give me a pass to the IMRC.” The teacher looked at me puzzled and I continued, “The Instrumental Music Rehearsal Center” (which was something Mr. Shaner had said in class that week). He wrote the pass and told me to beat it!

Band Class

While in school, I have many wonderful memories of band class and Mr. Shaner. I remember how he would tell us stories about the little old lady that he went to church with, which always made us laugh. Whenever one of his kids had a baby, he’d announce how his wife, Carol, “became a grandma again.” I remember how if there was a part of a song that didn’t sound right, he’d pull out the grade book and go down the line and make us all play individually – for a test grade. Then there was “the parting of the stands”, when he would step off the podium and go directly to whoever he needed to yell at.

When I was a junior, I wanted to be a band director (until I stumbled into radio). Mr. Shaner ran an after school Conducting Class for whoever wanted to be in it. It was part music theory and part conducting. Each of us in the class got to lead the band in a warm up chorale every day. I really enjoyed that. One class he asked each of us to bring a song to the class and explain why we liked it. I remember there being a lot of different types of music and his reaction to each was always enlightening.

The above picture was taken of him conducting the Jazz Band. We rehearsed after school and we got to play at Pep assemblies. Jazz Band was so much fun. It was just a small group of us, and he seemed to really have more fun with us. I remember one of the songs we played was Delta Dawn (the Tanya Tucker song). The sax section had the melody and the harmonies were just fantastic. I was given the solo on a song called “In a Sentimental Mood”. I was scared to play it but he was so encouraging and I remember not being so nervous after he talked to me.

At Christmas time, he would invite the band officers over for dinner or a movie. I remember how strange it felt to be at his house at first, but we were welcomed as friends and family. I can’t remember how many times we drove by his house honking our horns after graduation.

The “Radio” Preview?

At the end of my sophomore year, he had put an announcement on the grease board asking if someone wanted to help take songs from vinyl and transfer them to cassette so he could listen to them in the car. All the music publishing companies would send out record albums with demos of their music for the upcoming season. Band directors would listen to them and then order whatever songs they wanted. He needed someone to announce the title of the song before it played on the tape. That way, when he heard something he liked, he knew what the song title was. I volunteered to do it.

Naturally, before each song, I played DJ and if I knew something about the artist, I’d ad-lib something. I told jokes, and was just silly on them. He must have enjoyed it, because I did it for him the next two years. If we were recording something in class he’s say something like, “Hey, Golden Tones, why don’t you announce this for me.” I remember announcing Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo by saying, “Here’s a swinging little number called Mood Indigo.” Without missing a beat, he said “Shirley is gonna go around now saying ‘Hi! I’m Mood Indigo!”

He was so encouraging about my radio career. He’d listen when he could. He was always so supportive and interested in my radio job. He often talked about things he’d heard other DJ’s say. In an email he sent last year, he told me: “saw you in front of the microphone on Facebook this morning. I’m always pleased to see you doing what you always do so well.”

Open To All Ideas

He always seemed to want our ideas to come to fruition. It was tradition for the band officers to do a skit in front of the rest of the band. For our sketch, I thought it would be funny to have each officer step into the spotlight and lip sync to songs (this was long before lip sync battles were a thing). He gave the green light and we had a blast!

The skit that year led to us doing a lip sync contest. I asked Mr. Shaner if we could do it as a fund raiser. He was not really sure it would work, and he asked me many questions about it and how we were going to handle things before giving it the go ahead. He was willing to let me throw it together.

He called it Puttin’ On The Hits! We opened it up for everyone, but they had to audition. Someone did Time Warp from Rocky Horror (that won), someone else did Going Back to Cali, and me and my buddy, Steve, did the Ames Brothers Rag Mop. Prior to the show, ticket sales were low. We thought we were gonna cancel it because of that. However, the sales at the door that night sold out the show. We had a full house that night and it was a huge success.

Band Banquet Imitations

My Junior year, the officers were discussing the agenda for the annual Band Banquet. We needed one more speech, so I said I’d get up and do an imitation of Mr. Shaner. That night I was nervous. I got up and started my speech by saying “The longer you’re in band, the more Mr. Shaner starts to grow on you…” with that I ducked under the podium and threw on a bald cap. I then put a baton in the back of my shirt collar like he did. I “yelled” about how nobody practiced, talked about retiring and some other things. As the laughter died down, I realized I hadn’t written an “out”. I went on to thank Mr. Shaner for the many times he opened his office to listen to me talk about life, and issues I was dealing with. I don’t recall all I said, but I got pretty emotional and ended by telling him I loved him. He got up and we hugged. Somewhere I have a picture of that moment.

Remember, that happened my Junior year ….. so when my senior year arrived, he got me back good! I used to have the video of it, but I am not sure what happened to it …. so from memory, here’s what happened:

He always had a spot on the agenda to speak at the Band Banquet. So when it came time for his speech, I introduced him and sat down. He stood up and reached into a paper bag. He pulled out a wig and put it on. The entire hall erupted in laughter. He ran around the hall doing all kinds of gestures that I really hoped I had never done. At one point, he stopped at pointed to the custodian who cleaned our band room and yelled “Get outta here, Bill!” which was something we all yelled at him. By the time he got to the microphone, I was crying from laughing so hard. But he was far from done…..

He began to tell silly stories as me. One of them was “You know, Margaret is always asking me to come over and go to dinner or to the movies, but I tell her I’d rather play pinochle than do that!” (The guys and I would always play cards together, and Margaret was one of my best friends.) As the stories and laughs continued, he paused, said something about a costume change and turned with his back to the audience.

NOTE: Now, if you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know that we did a lot of TPing when I was in school. We had a group that went out called the TP Bandits……

He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a piece of toilet paper that he made into a mask and the laughter became ten times louder!

He looked absolutely ridiculous! It was the funniest thing I have ever sat through! My sides ached from laughing so hard!

The thing about Mr. Shaner was, he could take you from laughing like crazy to crying like a baby. Immediately after he took off the TP mask and wig, he spoke to us about the achievements of the year and offered up wisdom. I remember he mentioned how after graduation, friends will go separate ways. He said that you could go 30 years and when you met back up, could pick right up where you left off. Looking back at that now, I am lucky to have had his friendship 30 years after that night!

After his speech, I told him that was the worst impression of me I had ever seen!

After Graduation

I’m not going to lie, I hated graduating. I didn’t want to head out into the real world! I was comfortable in the band room. There was talk about an Alumni Band, and I was asked to head it up. I gathered all the addresses and we got it up and running. It, in itself, became a great way for all of us band “kids” to come back and hang out with Mr. Shaner. We marched in the homecoming parade every year and even played on the field once or twice. He was very supportive of the group. When he retired, there was an attempt to get folks together, but it was less successful. I truly believe that this had to do with the fact that he was not there to run rehearsals and chat with. There was always so much laughter and fun when we all got together, but without him, it was not the same.

I remember stopping by the band room one summer and he had lost a bunch of weight. He said he had been doing Weight Watchers. I had been struggling with weight for some time and I asked him about it. He was very encouraging and suggested I go. I remember losing 85 pounds and he cheered me all along the way!

One day, my girlfriend at the time and I went to see the Community Band play at one of the colleges. I was surprised to see Mr. Shaner playing his cornet in the band. There were many other concerts I attended and saw him play. It was always a treat for me. We often bumped into each other at shows. I remember seeing him at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra show, and at a Doc Severinsen show (among others).

Don’t Break Anything …

I can’t recall if it was before or after Christmas, but my son was about 1 or 2 years old. We had stopped by his house just to say hello. Their house was full of things on shelves that were breakable. I was so nervous with my son. Mrs. Shaner told my son to pick a gift from under the tree. He picked a book that came with a CD that he listened to often growing up. Mr. Shaner and I sat at his kitchen table talking. I kept wanting to get up because Mrs. Shaner was “entertaining” my son. He kept telling me, “Carol is keeping an eye on him. He’s fine.” Come to find out he was in their room jumping up and down on their bed ….. LOL

Hot Chocolate

I’d always mention getting together for coffee when we’d talk on the phone. He’d always say, I don’t do coffee, but I’ll meet you for hot chocolate. We did that often. In those times we were together, we’d talk about life, family, and the various things going on in our lives. There were so many times I’d walk into his office at school and say, “Do you have a minute?”, and we’d talk just like this. I always enjoyed his insights to things. He was so helpful when I was going through my divorce, offering some sage advice. He always helped me to see things just a bit differently.

Even in his last email to me he offered up encouraging words. He spoke of how much he enjoyed seeing my daughter in pictures on Facebook. He suggested a few books he thought I would enjoy and offered support about my bible classes. He was such a wonderful friend.

Some Closing Thoughts

Every once in a while, you meet someone who makes a huge impression on you. Tom Shaner was that man for me. He was more than just a teacher. As I stated, he was a mentor, a counselor, a leader, and a true friend. He taught me and so many other students life lessons that we have carried with us throughout our lives.

He led by example. He was almost always the first one to arrive to things and the last to leave. He was firm, yet caring. He was serious, yet funny. He showed us the importance of hard work. He showed us the importance of humor. He instilled in us pride for our organization and in our accomplishments. He made music and making music fun! The list goes on and on …

What an influence he was to hundreds of students over the years! I commented on someone’s Facebook post this week by saying that “no matter what year you graduated, no matter what section you played in, no matter what you ended up doing for a living, or where you ended up, we all had one common thread – Tom Shaner.”

He has been such a big part of my life, I am not sure where I would be without his guidance. I am forever grateful for the moments that I shared with him. I don’t know that I could ever put into words what a blessing he was to me. I am so thankful to have had him in my life.

He always said “If you’re on time, you’re late,” so I am going to assume that he was right on time for the heavenly concert that God needed an extra cornet for.

Thank you, Sir. You will be missed every day!

Portrait by Tom’s grandson, Evan.

The Benefits of Music Education

Introduction

The following is a research paper that I wrote for one of my college classes in November of 2010.  Eight years later, it still remains one of my favorite writings.  If you have ever wondered about why music is SO important in school – please read on.

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The Benefits of Music Education (2010)

In 1988, my high school band director told our class about an international concert. For one month, high school students from all over the world rehearsed the same three pieces of music.  At the end of that month, they all came together in one place and performed those three pieces flawlessly in front of an audience with no rehearsal.  The point of his story was to show that in music – there are no language barriers.    Hans Christian Anderson said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”  Yes, music speaks, but it does so much more.  For the purpose of this paper, I’d like to examine the benefits of music education in school and how they prepare students for life.

Think for a moment about how music can affect us. An up-tempo march played by a marching band in a parade can bring happiness, while a song about a lost love can bring sadness and tears.  Some modern rock music is an expression of the composer’s anger, while smooth jazz is the expression of its composer’s “coolness”.  What would a movie be without the soundtrack or orchestral underscore?  It is hard for me to imagine a horror movie without suspenseful music that builds you up to that moment of sudden shock!  Music stimulates and enhances our emotions.

Music can also help a person think more clearly.   Did you know that music helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence?  “When he could not figure out the right wording for a certain part, he would play his violin to help him.  The music helped him get the words from his brain onto paper” (O’Donnell, 1999).  One of the world’s smartest men and greatest thinkers also used music to help him think.  Albert Einstein said that the reason he was so smart was because he, too, played the violin.  “A friend of Einstein, G.J. Withrow, said that the way Einstein figured out his problems and equations was by improvising on the violin” (O’Donnell, 1999).

There is plenty of research that implies that children have an incredible capacity to learn from the day that they are born. Music and melody can play a key role in helping a child learn.  A prime example of this would be the “Alphabet Song”.  Set to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, countless children are able to learn their ABC’s by singing them to this familiar tune.  Educational television shows like “Sesame Street” have been using music to teach not only numbers and letters to children, but also the concepts of sharing, colors, and good manners.  Music and learning seem to work quite well together.

Why then, is music education one of the first things that are cut in public schools when a school district is trying to save money? I, personally, do not have an answer to that question, but former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee had this to say about it:

“When I hear people asking how we fix the education system, I tell them we need to do the opposite of what is happening, cutting budgets by cutting music programs.  Nothing could be stupider than removing the ability for left and right brains to function.  Ask a CEO what they are looking for in an employee and they say they need people who understand teamwork, people who are disciplined, people who understand the big picture. You know what they need?  They need musicians.” (Huckabee, as cited in “The Benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.)

What I hope to present to the reader in the next few pages, is enough information to prove that there are many benefits to music education in school. Let us examine those benefits and how they remain with students long after graduation and help them through life.

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Music and Life

Consider the words of General Norman Schwartzkopf, who led the coalition forces that defeated Iraq and liberated Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm: “During the Gulf War, the few opportunities I had for relaxation I always listened to music and it brought me great peace of mind”. He adds that his love for music started “with the music appreciation course that I was taught in a third-grade elementary class.  What a tragedy it would be if we lived in a world where music was not taught to children” (Schwartzkopf, as cited in “Music Advocacy’s Top Ten Quotes”, 2006).  Jim Henson, creator of “The Muppet Show” says, “Music is an essential part of everything we do.  Like puppetry, music has an abstract quality which speaks to a worldwide audience in a wonderful way that nourishes the soul” (Henson, as cited in “Music Advocacy’s Top Ten Quotes”, 2006).  Finally, singer, songwriter, Jewel, says, “Some people think music education is a privilege, but I think it is essential to being human” (Jewel, as cited in “Music Advocacy’s Top Ten Quotes”, 2006).  It is indeed.

As children grow, they have a natural desire to sing and play with the only goal being their own enjoyment. Studies have shown a connection between music and play and brain development.  In her book, “Music and the Young Mind”, Maureen Harris says that research “clearly demonstrates that the first years in a child’s life constitute an extremely important time when music can stimulate the development of nerve connections among brain cells for optimal cognitive development” (Harris, 2009).  A 1997 study by Whitwell found that simply discussing music uses the left side of the brain, while making music uses the right side (Harris, 2009).  Activities like playing a musical instrument or singing, which engage both sides of the brain at the same time, cause the brain to be more capable of processing information (O’Donnell, 1999).

Brain plasticity is the brain’s unique ability to constantly change, grow, and basically remap itself over the course of a lifetime. Dr. Frederick Tims says, “Just as music involves all aspects of learning (memory, recognition, emotion, motor control and perception), music education can work to stimulate brain nerve resources that might otherwise be left untapped” (Tims, as cited in “The Benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.).  According to German professor Eckhardt Altenmüller, music making “turns out to be the behavior which probably most effectively induces short-term and long-term brain plasticity” (Altenmüller, n.d.).  He adds that in professional pianists and violinists, who started their training before 7 years of age, “the anterior portion of the corpus callosum – the most important interhemispheric connection – is larger compared to non-musicians or to musicians with later onset of practice” (Altenmüller, n.d.).

As little as one year of music training can have a positive impact on your brain that will last the rest of your life (Hawkins, 2009). Tom Shaner, retired band director for Van Dyke Public Schools in Warren, MI told me “Research now supports the theory that we (music teachers) have felt for many years – that the study of music is helpful in brain development. Observation over many years of teaching gave us support of that theory” (Shaner, personal communication, October 2010). Altenmüller admits that research on the effects of music education on the brain is still in the infancy stages.  He elaborates, “I suspect that we have not yet found the right tests or done the necessary studies for demonstrating the long term impact of music education for daily life in reasoning and feeling” (Altenmüller, n.d.). This, however, does not mean that there is a shortage of research to show positive benefits of music education, as we will see.

Music and Intelligence

Let us consider how the study of music helps students develop intelligence. According to a 2007 article in Nature Neuroscience, “playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem’s sensitivity to speech sounds.  This relates to encoding skills involved with music and language.  Experience with music at a young age can ‘fine-tune’ the brain’s auditory system” (“The Benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.).  In his book “A User’s Guide to the Brain”, Dr. John Ratley says:

“The musician is constantly adjusting decisions on tempo, tone, style, rhythm, phrasing, and feeling – training the brain to become incredibly good at organizing and conducting numerous activities at once.  Dedicated practice of this orchestration can have a great payoff for lifetime attentional skills, intelligence, and an ability for self-knowledge and expression.” (Ratley, as cited in “the benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.)

Spatial reasoning is the ability to interpret and make drawings, form mental images, and visualize movement or change in those images. Spatial reasoning is especially important in mathematics. “A University of California (Irving) study showed that after eight months of keyboard lessons, preschoolers showed a 46% boost in their spatial reasoning IQ” (Rauscher, Shaw, Levine, Ky, and Wright, as cited in “The Benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.).

We have seen the effects of music education on the brain and how it factors in developing intelligence. It is interesting to note that according to a 1996 Harris poll, schools that have music programs have significantly higher graduation rates than those without programs (90.2% as compared to 72.9%).  Let us continue to move forward and see the benefits of music education on learning in school and specific subjects.

Music and Learning

In the Journal of Research in Music Education, Christopher Johnson and Jenny Memmott found that students in high-quality music programs score higher on standardized tests compared to students in schools with deficient music education programs.  “Students in top-quality music programs scored 22% better in English and 20% better in math than students in deficient music programs” (Johnson & Memmont, as cited in The Benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.).  A 1996 Nature magazine article states that “the scores of elementary instrumental music students on standardized math tests increased with each year they participated in the instrumental music program” (Music Advocacy for Directors, 2000).  According to the California Council of the Fine Arts Deans, research shows when the arts are included in a student’s curriculum, reading, writing, and math scores improve.  A 1999 article in Neurological Research magazine showed that second and third grade students who were taught fractions through musical rhythms scored 100% higher on fractions tests than those who learned in the conventional manner.  It should not be surprising that those students who study the arts wind up having more success on tests like the SAT and achieve higher grades in high school.

Music education also has an influence on a student’s behavior. In “Arts With the Brain in Mind”, Eric Jensen shows that “with music in schools, students connect to each other better” and that there is “greater camaraderie, fewer fights, less racism, and reduced use of harmful sarcasm” (Jensen, as cited in “Music Education Statistics and Facts, n.d.).  A 2003 Gallup Poll showed that 71% of Americans believed that teenagers who play a musical instrument were less likely to have disciplinary problems. (“Music Education Statistics and Facts, n.d.). Music students also demonstrate less test anxiety and performance anxiety than those students who do not study music.

Music Prepares for Life

So just how does music education prepare students for life “after school”? What benefits from having been a part of music education do students take with them into “real life”?  Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, President of “Attitude Concepts for Today”, says that there are many “indirect” benefits of music education.  He claims that there is more to making music than just the rewards that are experienced while in school.  He says, “Being a musician maps the human mind for success; success in all avenues of life” (Lautzenheiser, personal communication, October 2010).

Dr. Tim, as he is affectionately known to band directors and students all across the country, presented me with five key things that are learned through music that apply to personal and professional challenges that students will face after graduating from school. First, he says, “Through music learning we teach an understanding of quality as well as the rewards of quantity” (October 2010). In other words, a student will experience facts and figures involved with making music, but also will gain an appreciation for the arts.  Unlike standard tests, in which the final evaluation is the reward, a music student gains their reward as a result of making the music.

Second, Lautzenheiser says, students learn “behavior based on ethics as well as the importance of obeying the rules” (October 2010). In the music setting, each musician needs to be ethical and follow certain rules and regulations.  They execute self-discipline in order to contribute and achieve the goal of the group.  Lautzenheiser says that music education programs are “shaping the lives of our ‘leaders of tomorrow’” because of the habits and discipline formed in the rehearsal setting (October 2010).

Third, Dr. Tim says that music education teaches “respect for authority as opposed to fear of domination” (October 2010). Members of a band must learn to execute the instructions of the band director.  Band members do not have time to discuss or argue with the choices of the band director, they trust his or her decisions and follow them.  They must trust that those instructions are what is best for the group as a whole.  Dr. Tim says that “domination discourages creative thinking”, while authority encourages it.  This also helps individuals to learn the importance of cooperation.

The fourth thing that a music program teaches students according to Lautzenheiser, is “a working wisdom as well as a solid transcript of achievement” (October 2010). What is achievement? It is a measurable set of discipline and guidelines. What is wisdom?  It is learning that will support a positive and purposeful lifestyle.  Dr. Tim elaborates that music “makes better human beings and makes human beings better” (October 2010).

Finally, Lautzenheiser says that music education teaches students “an ongoing development of inner peace as well as a workable plan for personal security” (October 2010). Music is deeply rooted in emotion.  Music is thought to link all of the emotional, spiritual, and physical elements of the universe (O’Donnell, 1999).  The criteria for personal happiness are determined solely by each individual.  Nobody can tell someone what brings them pleasure or joy.  Music education is a way for students to express their inner thoughts or feelings through music.  It encourages creative expression, which is a foundational component of self-satisfaction.  With band, Lautzenheiser says, “The music is the reason, the music is the reward, the music is the substance, and the music is the payoff” (October 2010).

We are encouraged throughout out life to be creative. Music education and music in general, plays a key role to a person’s creativity.  Tom Shaner says it this way, “The study of music develops an understanding, participation in, and enjoyment of the creative side of the human mind and existence. This happens through active music making, listening and recreational enjoyment” (October 2010).

To further illustrate how music education prepares students for life, I must reference the Children’s Music Workshop.  They list numerous benefits of music education on their website.  For example, “students of the arts learn to think creatively and to solve problems by imagining various solutions, rejecting outdated rules and assumptions” (Twelve Benefits of Music Education, n.d.).  “Music study develops skills that are necessary in the workplace.  It focuses on ‘doing’ as opposed to observing, and teaches students how to perform, literally anywhere in the world” (Twelve Benefits of Music Education, n.d.).  Ask any employer and they will tell you that they are looking for workers who are well rounded individuals who are flexible.  Music education produces people who fit that description.  “Music study enhances teamwork skills and discipline” (Twelve Benefits of Music Education, n.d.).  Those skills and disciplines are taught in the rehearsal setting each and every day. Gregory Anrig, president of Educational Testing Service says, “The things I learned from my experience in music in school are discipline, perseverance, dependability, composure, courage and pride in results.  Not a bad preparation for the workforce!” (Anrig, as cited in “Music Benefits Children in Important and Substantial Ways”, n.d.).

It is “through music study, students learn the value of sustained effort to achieve excellence and the concrete rewards of hard work” (Twelve Benefits of Music Education, n.d.).  When a mistake is made in a performance, there is no way to stop and correct it.  It is a mistake and the show must go on.  A student either plays the notes well, or they do not.  If an entrance is missed, it is missed.  Hard work is the only thing that makes a successful performance possible.  It is through diligent practice and determination that a student can achieve excellence.

Students who study the arts learn empathy.  They get a look at other cultures and learn to be empathetic to them.  “This development of compassion and empathy, as opposed to development of greed and a ‘me first’ attitude, provides a bridge across cultural chasms that leads to respect of other races at an early age” (Twelve Benefits of Music Education, n.d.).  Empathy is one of life’s important lessons.  It is a rare find in society today.  Society seems to teach that we should only care about ourselves, but students who learn empathy can identify and understand the feelings of others.  Imagine how different the world would be if everyone showed empathy!

Closing Thoughts

Students who participate in a music education program reap many benefits from it.  They think better.  They solve problems more easily.   They have higher scores than those students who do not participate in a music program.  They are better prepared for life after school.  One study even shows that they live longer and healthier lives (Tims, as cited in “The Benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.). With all of the information I have presented, it should come as no surprise that I am such an advocate for music education in schools.  We are often told that our children are our future.  With that in mind, I will close with a quote from former President of the United States, Gerald Ford, who said that music education “opens doors that help children pass from school into the world around them – a world of work, culture, intellectual activity, and human involvement.  The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music” (Ford, as cited in “Music Advocacy’s Top Ten Quotes”, 2006).

Thanks for reading!

Music Quotes I Love!

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“Without music, life would be a mistake” ― Friedrich Nietzsche.

“How is it that music can, without words, evoke our laughter, our fears, our highest aspirations?” ― Jane Swan

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” – Albert Einstein

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.” ― Billy Joel

“Music is to the soul what words are to the mind.” ― Modest Mouse

“Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can’t.” ― Johnny Depp

“Music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” ― Leonard Bernstein

“Music can change the world because it can change people.” ― Bono

“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.” ― Sarah Dessen

“Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.” ― George Eliot

“To live is to be musical, starting with the blood dancing in your veins. Everything living has a rhythm. Do you feel your music?” ― Michael Jackson

“Love is friendship set to music.” ― Jackson Pollock

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” ― Leonard Bernstein

“Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence” – Robert Fripp