By Tim Hayes
The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras – he of the theorem memorized by millions of high school geometry students, wherein a-squared plus b-squared equals c-squared – once said, “Music is math made audible.”
If anybody had the street cred to make such a statement, good old Pythagoras did.
Give a child four bars of music, and you have helped him acquire the concept of a number line and integers. Place students in a band, orchestra, or chorus, and you’ve helped them learn discipline, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, simultaneous logical and creative brain activity, and basic math aptitude. Each measure of music contains a set number of beats, with different notes divided up within each measure. Each measure, then, is really its own math problem, in a way.
Then there are the social benefits of rehearsing and performing with a group of similar students, the friendships that emerge, and the sense of working as a unit that can have important benefits over the span of an entire lifetime.
As a musician during my school years, I recall those days and those afternoons in the band room fondly. Watching my kids sing and perform has made me thankful and proud, as well. With two of them pursuing music degrees in college now, those feelings have only grown stronger with time.
School boards and administrations regularly wrestle with questions about funding for music and other arts programs. Those who deride music as something “extra” or something “non-essential” or something “soft” in a curriculum miss the whole point.
We shouldn’t view it as “music education,” like it stands alone and apart from the basics of language and mathematics and science. We should appreciate music as education in each of those areas – an invaluable reinforcement tool, an incredible prism through which the basics of education come alive in ways that students may not even realize they’re refining key skills.
Plus, it’s just a blast to play an instrument or sing along with your friends.
In the 1989 movie, “Lean On Me,” Morgan Freeman plays Principal Joe Clark, a tough disciplinarian called in as a last-ditch effort to save Eastside High School, considered New Jersey’s worst school, before the state seizes control from the local school board. Through hard-nosed enforcement of what some call tyrannical rules, Principal Clark slowly begins a turnaround.
But one of the most effective tools – met initially with scoffing derision by his young charges – is his insistence that all Eastside High students learn and proudly sing the school song. And when the story comes to its crescendo, its climax, and the kids sing that school song with energy, pride, and appreciation for Principal Clark, you come to appreciate the power of music to move minds, hearts, and once-calcified attitudes.
So, while we give Pythagoras props for noting that music is indeed math made audible, it’s much more than that. Music is so much of what makes life interesting and challenging and beautiful made audible, as well. I’m so glad it’s been a central part of my family’s life for so long, and that it will continue to be so for a long time to come.
Copyright 2013 Tim Hayes Consulting