May 9, 2013 3 Comments
It puzzles me that music education in public shcools is not considered part of the core curriculum. When there are budget cuts, often the music programs suffer. This does not happen to sports programs. Why? Because they bring money into the schools. When I was a kid, music programs had to rely on “Music Boosters” that is, parents who held bakes sales and fund raisers for their kids. When my kids were young we lived in hyper “my-kid-is-gifted” Montgomery County, Maryland, and parents would rather the money went to enrichment programs in math and science.
This seems like a perversion of our entire educational system. In a study reported in 1998 by the American Psychological Association, researchers found that taking music lessons and playing an instrument correlates positively with higher I.Q. levels. They also observed that participating in music utilizes many parts of the brain that control a wide range of abilities. It is a holistic activity in that it stimulates both the right and left brain (which control feeling and logic). Performing requires both gross and fine motor skills. Finally, music also involves at least three senses–auditory, visual, and tactile.
Other learning researchers have established that involving more than one sense at a time makes learning more efficient and speedy. A Bulgarian researcher even based an entire educational program on that–I think it was called Suggestopedia. By combining music and a highly structured curriculum, they claimed feats of super learning. Students learned a foreign language in one week, reportedly.
The misplacement of our priorities in the American educational system, reminds me of a bumper sticker I once saw on a car: “Wouldn’t it be nice if schools had billions of dollars and it was the Army that had to hold bake sales?”
Here’s one final factoid I think is relevant. The two men who invented Kodachrome were concert musicians, who taught themselves chemistry so they could work on an idea. Kodak gave them a laboratory and they spent years perfecting their method. When they got stuck, they would pull out their instruments and play a sonata together. The “real scientitsts” used to laugh at them. They also kept up an intense performance schedule. Finally they succeeded. I wonder how many un-musical scientists could write a symphony.
This relates to Haydn’s Paukenmesse because I sang in school choirs in grade school, but it wasn’t until hearing that album that I became interested in vocal music. The pieces our choir teachers chose were for them most part ghastly and really had nothing to say to me. In college, I once saw the Vienna Choir Boys, small little cherubs who belted out pieces by Strauss and other great composers. I was stunned. How did they get little kids to do that?
Haydn’s Paukenmesse was in that stash of records I found at a garage sale. Though this disk was ruined when an apartment I lived in flooded, I still remember its upbeat, snappy orchestral sections, the lovely choral and beautiful vocal solos. My father used to whistle, and I picked up the habit from him. The opening to the Paukenmesse, with its baroque trumpets and kettle drums (in German pauken), was very whistle-able, indeed. From this mass I went on to start listening to baroque oratorios and eventually opera.
The subtitle for this mass is “Mass in Time of War.” I don’t know which war, or who was winning or why they were fighting, but you won’t detect a bellicose note in the whole piece. It sounds joyous, like a lot of baroque music. Perhaps it was written as a piece of propaganda, to buck up national spirits and mobilize the masses. As such, maybe I should disdain the mixing of religion and war. I would hate to do so, however. I’m not going to say in hindsight that had my choir teachers expected us to sing great works of music that I’d now be singing in the Met, but it would have been nice if the pieces chosen had been beautiful and challenging. Haydn, as I found out researching this piece, started out as choir boy in the Cathedral of Vienna, and when his voice broke, he became a teacher. He went on to write over 100 symphonies and gained renown as the greatest composer of his time. See the value of good music education in the schools now?