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A Note on Music Education in Elementary Schools

MUSIC

Lauren Nyquist, Carnegie Vanguard, 2016

With the release of the bestselling book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua in 2011, it is easy for me to understand the negative perception of childhood music education within my community, especially through a program that is associated with Eastern Asia. When I tell people that I learned viola through the Suzuki method, they always refer to the generalizations created through negative media coverage after the release of Chua’s book. They imagine groups of young toddlers using small violins and cellos as chew toys and being yelled at by their parents, but that experience is far from actuality, and the benefits that I received from music education are why Houston ISD needs to prioritize music within elementary schools.

The Suzuki method of learning an instrument was developed by a Japanese violinist, Shin’ichi Suzuki, in the mid-twentieth century. Suzuki realized that music could be learned in a way that was similar to how a child would learn a language, and so he developed a method that he called the “mother-tongue approach.” This method stressed the mentorship by a “parental” figure, usually starting as a young child, a positive environment, listening, and a lot of repetition, which leads to eventual memorization. Children are encouraged to start learning by ear before learning music theory and technique. Suzuki believed that music could bridge cultures and cross language barriers, and the repertoire consists of ten books that are consistent between instruments and throughout the world. When I attended Parker Elementary School as a fifth grader, my teacher/school emphasized learning in a non-competitive group environment that fostered the improvement of each individual, another important quality of Suzuki education.

photo from ameliaseyssel.com

My experience in Suzuki started in first grade, later than most, but I still cherish my education, and the qualities that I gained from those years are responsible for any success I have had, including diligence, perseverance, respect, teamwork, and confidence. These qualities are all necessary to be a productive member in society.

Counterarguments to music education stem from the assumption that the purpose is to create musicians, and that the programs detract from academia. As someone who attends Carnegie Vanguard and plans to pursue a degree in political science and economics in college, I find fault in these arguments. Parker Elementary stressed our academic success and challenged us within our academic classes, and it was only after a full eight hour school day that we would attend our music classes. Music was seen as something that would benefit us academically, mentally, and of course musically. The qualities that I mentioned earlier could be seen within my classes. If I wanted to be successful in a math concept, it came with hard work and practice.In class presentations showcased the growth in confidence that I gained from performing in front of others. Working in group projects became easier because I learned how to properly work as a member of a team.

Not all Parker students have turned into musicians. Of course, the school has produced some of the best and brightest that would eventually attend HSPVA, but the majority of my class has split amongst many Houston Independent School District schools, and we all aspire to pursue different degrees from science to Old English Literature.

It is critical that Houston Independent School District maintain programs such as these. I have witnessed the destruction of fine arts programs within schools for reasons such as funding, but the benefits that are given to students, especially within an elementary school program, should be prioritized. It is uncommon that we hear about students who are a part of their school orchestra getting involved in gangs, drugs, and other activities that deserve disciplinary actions. Furthermore, the threat that one cannot be involved unless that person’s grades are all at a certain level proved to be an effective incentive when I attended Lanier Middle School as a member of their Sinfonia Orchestra. These are all points to be considered, but I hope that as a school district, HISD prioritizes the benefits of such a program within elementary schools.

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This entry was posted on March 1, 2015 by and tagged , , , .

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