EducationWatch: Music And The Mind

Researchers examine the relationship of mind, language and music
Laurel Fishman

Researchers presented findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in San Diego this past February substantiating the mind's complex relationship between music and language. According to Gottfried Schlaug, M.D., Ph.D., a neurology professor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, stroke patients who have lost language facility can sing words they are incapable of speaking. Schlaug made the discovery while working with a patient who could not speak the words "happy birthday," but could sing them. During an AAS podcast, Aniruddh D. Patel, Ph.D., Esther J. Burnham senior fellow at the Neurosciences Institute, said understanding how the specialized abilities of music and language work in the brain would have "lots of implications for lots of practical things like treating language disorders or aiding language learning." Patel also cited evidence indicating that musically trained people have improved language-learning ability.

In conjunction with the Library of Congress' Music and the Brain II series, music therapist Dr. Jayne Standley presented the session Wellness And Growth: Acoustic Medicine And Music Therapy on May 14 in Washington, D.C. The following day, music therapist/consultant Anne B. Parker conducted Managing Stress And Enhancing Wellness With Music Therapy. Both events were free to the public and followed renowned music therapist Dr. Connie Tomaino's related presentation, The Positive Effects Of Music Therapy On Health, held earlier this year.

With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz brought its peer-to-peer jazz education program to Seattle-area public schools April 26–30. Six exceptionally gifted jazz students from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts participated in concerts and workshops with acclaimed professionals including jazz educator Dr. J.B. Dyas, saxophonist Antonio Hart, vocalist Lisa Henry, and Thelonious Monk Jr., the institute's chairman of the board of trustees and son of legendary jazz pianist and composer/Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Thelonious Monk. Topics included why jazz is important to the United States, how a jazz ensemble represents a perfect democracy, and the positive values reinforced by jazz: teamwork, freedom with responsibility, unity with ethnic diversity, the results of diligent efforts in goal accomplishment, the importance of finding a passion early in life, and perseverance.

Though she has now graduated from Huntingtown High School in Chesapeake Beach, Md., Lauren McClellan hopes to continue supporting Making Musik, an organization she founded in 2007 to collect and redistribute used instruments and music books to local music teachers. A violinist since the fourth grade, McClellan was motivated to establish Making Musik after learning that music education correlates with better academic achievement, higher SAT scores and increased social interaction for children.

Musical instrument "petting zoos" are allowing children nationwide to get friendly with the idea of making music. On April 16 one such event was held at the Austintown Library in Youngstown, Ohio, welcoming kids of all ages to examine and play various instruments. Representing the woodwind, brass, string, and percussion families, instruments were provided by members of Youngstown State University's Dana School of Music. A brief history was given on each instrument, followed by a musical piece demonstrating the instrument.

In support of music education in schools, State Farm Insurance completed the Music Is My Ticket program in April. The program collected new and used musical instruments from local music fans in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York. The collected instruments, along with $5,000 in funding, was then presented to local schools including Cesar Chavez High School in Houston and Grover Cleveland High School in the Los Angeles area. In exchange for their instruments, State Farm gave donors a pair of free tickets to a private concert featuring Latin GRAMMY winner Luis Enrique and Xtreme.

A creative means of "peaceful protest" over music education budget cuts is gaining grassroots popularity. Before a meeting of the Glynn County Board of Education on June 9 in Brunswick, Ga., four Glynn Academy students played pieces by Mozart and other classical composers to demonstrate why funding for the strings program in local schools should not be cut. Mounted in front of their music stands, a poster read, "SOS — Save Our Strings." The students collected 450-plus signatures to support their cause, and insisted that the cuts would not only tear apart entire music programs in local schools, but also affect the Youth Symphony of Coastal Georgia, which features several musicians from Glynn County.

In related news, the Camden County Board of Education has been recently hearing from resourceful community members and music and arts teachers in St. Marys, Ga., who are also working to keep fine arts alive in the face of similar budget cuts. One proactive parent, Carol Plumer, pointed out that studying music encompasses a higher order of thinking skills, perceptual motor development, teamwork, creativity, individuality, self-discipline, and commitment.

Pickering, Ohio-based Rock Factory Art & Music Studios is working to educate and develop the talents of local musicians. One Union Project, the studio's house band made up of students from fifth grade through high school, is getting a big piece of their music education through immersion in professional settings. The young band members study at the facility, play live concerts and receive musical instruction presented in a space that includes a stage, recording studio, practice rooms, and lounge.

(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.)

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