Monday, 18 February 2013

Why don't all schools know this about music?

Last week Scots College’s director of music Andrew Stopps warned that a focus on maths and science — at schools and universities — is sapping talent from the humanities. He said that music was always put up against a second science subject and he had a hard time convincing parents that music wouldn't harm their kids' chances at university. 
Evidently he received support from professors at the country’s medical schools and law schools including Auckland University’s Professor John Fraser who said that some of the most successful and skilled doctors he knew had continued their musical interests. They all spoke passionately about how arts helped with the constant pressures of practising medicine.
‘To be able to tell your interviewers when applying for medical entry that you are a skilled musician does no harm at all,’ he said. 
He didn't go far enough 
In my opinion he should have gone further: being a musician — skilled or otherwise — should actually help you in your interview. Here’s why:
It is acknowledged by educationalists around the world that learning a musical instrument, and learning the musical theory that goes with it, dramatically enhances a student’s ability to learn in all subjects. No one knows  exactly why but the guess is that musical theory is unique enough to open new neural pathways in the brain while learning an instrument involves linking music on paper with physical coordination and dexterity: no other subject combines mind and body in the same way. 
The fact is learning music and an instrument (but not just listening to music) actually reshapes the brain.  
For example see this and this.  
Personal experience   
The only reason I’m writing about this now is that I have some personal experience. As well as being a  writer I am also a musician and a music lover. As a music lover I wrote a short book based on Modest Mussorgsky’s suite, Pictures at  an Exhibition (see For Viktor.)  
Writing For Viktor led to my meeting  and friendship with Maestro Ashkenazy
This little book came to the attention of the famous Russian pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy — incidentally a famous interpreter and arranger of Mussorgsky’s original music — who wrote a wonderful letter endorsing my book as a powerful educational tool.
His letter includes the following and quite remarkable paragraph (bold emphasis is mine):  
‘I know of numerous examples of how children react being exposed to well presented lessons based on this kind of music and the results are absolutely astounding; apart from the fact that as they grow up they almost never abandon their affection for the serious music, they perform much better in all other subjects of their curriculum than those children who were not exposed to the same musical appreciation program. I know first hand of these examples in many countries - from the U.K. to Russia - having been a part of such programs.
(You can read the whole letter on my website here.) 

Now why don't all schools know this about music?