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A giant flies with the angels; America is reminded of its promise

Today, a giant passed away. A man that has served as a major inspiration for so many people, Steve Jobs, the former CEO and creator of Apple Inc. is now flying with the angels above. Mr. Jobs must be one of the most forward looking men of the 20th and 21st centuries; he was a man of huge ideas that reached the masses. He was also a man with a message: never look back, never think small. This message resonates loudly and clearly today for all of us committed to breathing life into a world of music and art that is suffering in a time of economic chaos. In an address to Stanford University students in 2005, he remarked: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all eternal expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart…Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

The premise that knowing we could all die in a moment’s notice, proves that all of us should go for broke even if the risks are high. Taking the big chances and diving in the deep end makes us vulnerable but in that vulnerability is where boldness is born and big ideas are realized. In the recession that Americans face today, the arts community and our artistic institutions have to resist the urge to be cautious and calculated. It’s time to make big and smart choices.

This starts with revitalizing the artistic and creative outlets available to our children in enrolled in grammar or high school. Music classes were a requisite and hallmark to a sound, public education in years past. Unfortunately, in light of budgetary concerns and education competitiveness from Asian and middle eastern countries, these classes have been truncated and in some cases totally removed as part of a child’s learning curve. What our legislators fail to see is that music and art have been a large part of keeping our children on the competitive edge, graduating, and prevailing in the long term. The National Association for Music Education concluded in 2007 that high schools with a coherent music and arts program inherent to a child’s daily curriculum had a national graduation rate of 90.2 percent. High schools that did not offer these programs had a staggeringly lower rate of graduation at 72.9 percent. Moreover, the survey showed that young adults who took the SAT exam for entrance into university that were offered a music education scored more than 100 points higher on their exams than students without a music education.

Consider, alternatively, that in the advent of the video gaming culture and online media entertainment, a lifestyle of playing an instrument is far less prevalent today than it was even 20 years ago. In an LA Times piece from 2009, it found a shocking 60% decrease in the purchase of new and used pianos in American homes and schools between 1998 and 2009. Families and schools, with pressing financial concerns opt for cheaper outlets into music and thus the piano, once a staple of the American living room and music classroom is being phased out in favor of more digital, cheaper devises. Less real fundamental music in the home and at school has shown to have devastating impacts in the classroom and afterwards.

The impact of these numbers is breathtaking. Participation in the arts is a clear motivating factor for young adults on the edge of dropping out or staying in school. These young people that desire to sing, to dance, to play an instrument, or to paint will come to school if they have the courses available to them which inevitably keeps them enrolled in mathematics and the other staples of the educational cycle. Hence, children and young adults are more likely to succeed in graduating. And it’s not just graduation and retention rates that are important. The level of achievement during and after high school of students with a music education is even more critical. Some of our most important innovators in Silicon Valley were musicians themselves or had a grand passion for music, like Steve Jobs.

It’s so necessary to remind ourselves of the promise that music has on our psyche and our soul. Imagine a world where music would cease to exist. Take one day and remove music from your life. If the TV is on, put it on mute or at least, mute it during the commercials. Turn off your ipod. Turn off the radio. Refraining from listening to music could make one realize how dependent we are on something that is so implicit in our lives that we take for granted every day. It’s this anecdote and the various arguments that I’ve made that demonstrate how music and the arts have to be a part of our lives and more narrowly, a part of a child’s destiny.

So how do we move forward? How does America instill in a new generation of leaders, foundations, and governmental institutions even, the need to make music and art an intrinsic attribute of a child’s educative process, especially in our pressing economic condition? This is going to be a recurring theme on my website and something that I open up to all of the readers here and ask for your input.

I submit to you my first big suggestion of many in how to move the artistic community in America forward, even during an economic recession. As a social experiment, we should continue to open the door to charter schools and offer voucher programs to families whose schools do not offer an acceptable music or arts program to children.

Numerous charter schools throughout the United States have had wide ranged success in offering children a more specifically tailored learning process geared towards arts and music. Chicago, New York City, Minneapolis, and St. Louis are known for having several new and prospering charter institutions that are effectively free of charge for parents without difficult enrollment options. If we take the statistics cited above at face value, the more we as a society open the eyes of parents to the promise of charter schools, the greater chance we have as society for our children to succeed. And children who graduate high school and move into the work place, will be more open to participating as adults in artistic forums, swinging the pendulum back in a positive direction.

This applies to voucher programs as well. A voucher is the equivalent to a waiver for educational expenses in a private school, submitted by the state. Look at it as the cost to educate one child in a public school, transferred to a private or parochial school in it’s place. Many trial voucher programs have been launched in cities around the United States, like New York City, Houston, Pittsburgh, and others as a way to give parents the choice to remove their child from a fledgling public school and shift them into a parochial or private school at little or no cost to them. If parents find a specific private school that offers a music or arts program superior to the public school that their child is placed in, it seems reasonable to offer that parent the choice to opt out of the public school so a child with specific needs and/or a burning desire to have music in their lives has a greater chance at succeeding in their life’s pathway. The goal is to enhance the lives of children so that they can graduate and move into successful careers, giving back to society, after having an all encompassing educational experience.

All of us in the arts world are searching for the solutions to make music and art one of the most valued aspects of American civil society; we have seen the vast benefits of music and how it allows us to move forward faster, more efficiently, and more dynamically. We know what kind of joy music and art bring to the lives of so many people. In the dark days of World War II, Winston Churchill was faced with a dilemma posed from his finance minister that major cuts in spending for museums, theater, and other cultural venues were imminent. He responded: “then what are we fighting for.” His words ring true today. We fight for the betterment of our social system. We fight for the prosperity of our artistic institutions that can even make the smallest difference in a child’s life. We fight for a society where art is an intrinsic function of our daily lives knowing that it benefits us all in the short and long term. We fight for music and art because it is fundamental to our humanity and know that it can’t be ripped away even during times of economic duress. We fight because music and art are worth living for. This conversation is just the start of many that we will have here. I welcome your support, your opinions, and your discussion.

One Response to A giant flies with the angels; America is reminded of its promise

  1. Michael,
    As an educator, I have seen our once envied music, art, and theater programs suffer from budget cuts and staffinig cuts over the years, The superintendent and the board has tried to insure there is something left in our arts program. However, without the support of out state General Assemby with was in contempt of Ohio’s Supreme Court for not funding our school appropriately, it is very difficult for our system to create the type of programs of which we were once the envy of southeastern Ohio some years ago. It seems that one can site statistics repeatedly of the positive gains having arts education in our schools will garner, but this information seems to fall on deaf ears. The fight is not over by a long shot. As long as there are those in a community who will stand up for our children’s right to have advantages which having arts in the curriculum can yield, we have a fighting chance.

    Thank you for your comments.

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Interview: Michael Fabiano on Faust

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