Music and Arts Education: What’s the Point? Episode 1: Love
As a leader in music and arts education, I find it my responsibility to communicate the importance and purpose of music and arts education.
Since today is Valentine’s Day, I want to share the story of how my grandparents on my Dad’s side of the family met. Although I am the only person in my family who decided to do music as a career, music has been very important to my family. Music communicates to others thoughts and feelings that words cannot. This is the first in a series I call “Music and Arts Education: What’s the Point?” Today’s topic is “Love” (don’t worry, it will be family friendly). I plan to talk about “professional skills”, “cognitive”, and “social-emotional” in future posts/episodes. For today, I will focus on “Love”. All you need is Love… and Music Education!
Love: One of Music’s Many Roles
Music serves many purposes in society. One role music plays in society is of courtship, romance, friendship, and family; in other words, “Love”. Everyone is aware of the multitude of love songs broadcast on the radio, streaming, and in movies. “Love” is a central theme of many songs, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit. Some love songs, historically, were later readapted as religious songs (and visa-versa).
Music: It is how my Grandparents Met
My grandfather was born in the early 1920’s and went into the U.S. Navy during World War II. At one point, he was stationed in Washington State and living in an apartment building. He grew up playing the guitar, learning songs from family members and from the radio (i.e. by ear). As he told the story to me, he was playing guitar by himself in his apartment room. My grandmother, who loved music and lived one story below in the same apartment, heard the music, ran upstairs, knocked on the door, and introduced herself.
The rest is history.
Fast Forward: Music’s role in my Family
Whenever I went to my grandparent’s house, inevitably someone would pull out an instrument and start playing music for everyone. In some ways, it was kind of like the music that held the family together. Whenever my grandfather pulled out the guitar and started playing songs like “You are my Sunshine”, my grandmother would stop everything she was doing and listen. More importantly, the look in her eye as she listened to my grandfather was just like she was twenty-years old again, like they were meeting again for the first time. Witnessing this interaction was always insightful for me. I could really see the power of music when I saw how my grandfather could bring the whole family together through music.
At this point you may be thinking, “Yeah, but this is the life of a family of professional musicians, right?” If you thought this, you would be mistaken.
I decided to become a “career musician”, yes, but my grandparents were not professional musicians. My grandfather’s career, other than the Navy, was that of a land owner and property manager. My grandmother took care of the family and the house. Neither had ever performed outside of our family gatherings. Nonetheless, music played an important role in their lives.
From the Heart: The Language of Music
Music communicates that which is difficult (dare I say “impossible”?) for words to say alone. The sort of communication that occurs when music is being performed is not the same as a speech or a book. It communicates similar things to a story, yes, but it also communicates feelings. I would argue that, in some ways, it communicates feelings more effectively and efficiently than even poetry alone.
At our family gatherings, when my grandparents played music for one another, they were communicating feelings. My grandfather’s first language was Spanish. He was born and raised in a farming village in New Mexico, and although this village is in the U.S., he learned Spanish first and English second. As a result, many of the songs that he knew were in Spanish.
My grandmother did not speak Spanish, but she loved these songs, and she loved to hear my grandfather serenade her with these songs. I know because I witnessed the two of them at the family gatherings. It is a wonderful memory for me to know how they loved each other.
My Grandmother’s Message to my Father and Me
My Grandmother purchased much sheet music during her life. She would write all over the music. She wrote notes directed to my Father, how also played the guitar, about which pieces he should learn, which ones she thought would sound nice. These messages survive today as I have some of the music in my possession. In some ways, they are like my grandmother’s little love notes to my Father, as well as to me. (I am mentioned on many of the notes as well.)
My Grandmother always said that “If you are to become addicted to anything, become addicted to music”. She really loved and valued music. She really respected orchestra conductors, and wanted one of us in the family to become a conductor. Although I did not become a “orchestra conductor” per se, I have become a leader in music. I also think my grandmother is right about music being “healthy”. There are so many things to become addicted to, and music is one of the healthiest obsessions that a person can have. Exploring music deeply results in a better understanding of self and others. This is a topic that I will explore in further posts and episodes as well.
My grandmother also saw the great value in music education. She could see for herself how it impacted her own life in a positive way, as well as the important role that music plays in families and society as a whole.
All You Need is Love (and Music Education!)
In the video that I created to accompany this post, I sing and play my own arrangement of “All you need is Love” by the Beetles. I created this arrangement specifically for my sister-in-laws wedding. Performing music at such occasions is yet another reason music education is important. When you have someone in the family who has taken the time and effort to learn music, then you have a person who can provide, culturally, to the family and their circles. When you invest in a person’s music education, then you put them on the path to a healthier lifestyle. When you play music for your loved ones, you communicate not only the literal meanings of the lyrics, but the emotions and feelings expressed in the melodies, rhythms, and harmonies.
This Valentine’s Day, please enjoy some music. Also, consider the role that music education has on Life, Love, and Family. Enjoy!