Why Music? The Importance of Music in America

by Brian Mitchell, President-Elect, WA-ACDA

mitchellWhen I try to explain the importance of a choral experience, I find my mind fires off like a lightning storm, shooting around from thought to thought. It bounces from all of the amazing new brain research to the encouraging information coming from the National Endowment of the Arts on the impact of arts studies on students with low socio-economic backgrounds, and the significant impact artists have on our national economy and workforce. I think about test scores, graduation rates, and the correlation of higher scores and rates to participation in music classes. But are these really the most important supporting ideas for the reason we sing?

Every human culture in every corner of the earth has created music and art. Even when basic survival would seem to be all that mattered, people made music. Why? This age-old question still lacks real answers, but there are clues. Brain research shows us that when we make and listen to music, dopamine is released in the reward center of the brain, the same chemicals released during basic survival needs such as eating and mating. It has also been proven that music simultaneously activates more parts of the human brain than any other activity.

I see students in the halls of my school listening to music all of the time, but they are isolated when doing it. Many seek solitude in listening, a protection from needing to interact with other people. They choose to text instead of talk. Many filter out much of the emotional connection, responding instead of interacting. When we sing together, we strengthen our skills in conversation, emotional expression, and even empathy. I believe the true value of music is in the conversation—interaction not reaction. We feel together when we sing. It is one of the things that distinctly defines us as human.

Don’t get me wrong: every one of us needs to be able to passionately articulate the value of music in many different ways. Some decision makers are only swayed by research, logic, and numbers. We need to be able to support what we believe with facts that can stand up to scrutiny, but we can’t let that be the end of the conversation. We must not let the reason for music be constrained by the values of the workforce and commerce, test scores, and bottom lines. The conversation has to be broader.

In June 2013, I participated in the three days of discussions and presentations at the Symposium on Music at Yale University. The topic was “The Role of Music in School Reform.” Many of my thoughts on this topic were solidified, and now, when asked about the value of music, I have an “elevator speech” prepared:

“Music is a basic survival need for human kind. In the cave, we made fire, ate food, made clothes and shelter, and then created art. When gathered at night, we sang together, and it bonded us. Music releases endorphins like many other basic human survival needs. I believe that there has never been a more important time for the making of music together. Our connected world actually filters out most of the human experience and leaves us feeling more isolated. Most of our musical experiences happen with earbuds on, alone, and passive, but humans need the communal experience. The emotional, spiritual, and physical connections created while singing with another person require no tools, no equipment, and no money. We just need each other and a willingness to express and connect.”

How would you answer this question? What is your “elevator speech”?

You may contact Brian Mitchell HERE.

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