EducationWatch: Iowa Needs Music

Parents and students campaign to preserve local arts and music education
Laurel Fishman

Parents, students and activists in Des Moines, Iowa, recently took action to preserve arts and music education in local schools. Approximately 500 advocates peacefully — but loudly — converged on the state capital on March 11 carrying signs reading "We Need Music" and "Kids Care About The Arts," while band and orchestra students played musical instruments. A recent Des Moines School Board meeting drew approximately 100 attendees armed with "Save Music" stickers and statistics substantiating the arts' positive impact on children's education. The large attendance at both events came in response to an announcement by the Des Moines School District that funds for art, music and physical education would be drastically cut. The Support Music Education in the Des Moines Public Schools Facebook group has nearly 7,000 members.

A live concert in Berkeley, Calif., on March 24 at the Berkeley High Community Theatre celebrated the results of grassroots efforts to preserve music education in local schools. A total of 500 music students representing 15 Berkeley public schools performed to a full house. For several years, concerts, raffles, local business donations, and community taxpayers have repeatedly come to the aid of Berkeley music programs, now funded by a Berkeley Schools Excellence Project parcel tax.

As part of its In Your School program, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra hosted a fundraising concert on March 23 to support district-wide music education and instrumental music programs. Additional music education activities included a pre-concert discussion, an opening performance with the Princeton High School Orchestra, CSO musicians coaching instrumental music students, and eight ensemble mini-concerts at Princeton elementary schools. The In Your School program is part of the orchestra's ongoing commitment to community music education. CSO musicians regularly visit elementary schools, and local high school students work with sectional coaches and CSO conductors. For more than 10 years, CSO has been presenting the Sound Discoveries: Music For Life, Music For The Community, Music For A Career outreach program. In fortifying music education for children in greater Cincinnati, the CSO serves approximately 50,000 students each season. 

On March 19 the Alpha Nu Chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota of Ohio's Youngstown State University presented Save The Music Fest, a fundraising concert to support the VH1 Save The Music Foundation's goals of providing musical equipment and essential funds to sustain music education in schools. Performers included local acts JD Eicher & The Goodnights, Fine Young Men, Rising Regina, and the Zou. An international music sorority for women, Sigma Alpha Iota's mission is to encourage, nurture and support the art of music.

The basic liberties of creating, enjoying and performing contemporary music unrestrictedly are addressed in No One Knows About Persian Cats, a new documentary-style film about the lack of those freedoms elsewhere. The film covers the underground music scene in Iran and shadows a pair of young musicians and their quest to form a band, record their music, stage a concert, buy false passports and visas, and immigrate to London. The duo includes Negar Shaghaghi, a woman who is forbidden to perform since a female singer can legally perform in Iran only as a chorus member. Appearing in the film are talented real-life underground musicians of Tehran, where the current regime prohibits their free expression. 

March was the National Association for Music Education's annual Music In Our Schools Month. Ford Middle School in Acushnet, Mass., held a celebratory concert on March 24 with performances by the school's various bands, chorus and woodwinds ensemble. The FMS Grade 7 and 8 Band's role in the concert was key preparation for its April performance at the Massachusetts Instrumental & Choral Conductors Association Annual Concert Festival. This year's performance marked the third year the award-winning FMS students participated in the festival.

In connection with the 2010 Batavia City School District's MIOSM Concert in Batavia, N.Y., Batavia High School Band Director Jane Haggett wrote an impassioned opinion piece for the local Daily News. Haggett noted that music education engenders active rather than passive involvement in learning, sharpens critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and enhances teamwork. "Planning, persistence, perseverance, and time management are all key ingredients to being successful, and most musicians must acquire those skills throughout their music education," wrote Haggett.

Also in conjunction with MIOSM, proactive parent Tracy Begland penned a well-reasoned column for the Dallas News on the importance of children's music education. Begland pointed out positive results such as self-discipline, self-reliance, and higher SAT scores as benefits of music education. She also cited the book What Music Means To Me by Richard Rejino, in which 43 musicians of all ages described the role of music in their life. Rejino's book celebrates the value of music in education and quality of life, focusing on kids in music programs, with compelling stories of how music helped inspire them to pursue their dreams amid hardships.

Rejino has followed up his book with the What Music Means To Me Project, which is designed to help raise public awareness of the benefits of music making. Students from all walks of life can participate as photographic subjects and compose a personal statement about their music making, communicating the power of music through their own experiences. The images and statements are being developed for various media as tools for music education advocacy. 

(Laurel Fishman is a writer and editor specializing in entertainment media. She reports regularly for and GRAMMY magazine, and she is an advocate for the benefits of music making, music listening, music education, music therapy, and music-and-the-brain research.)


Email Newsletter