In the past few years, the state of Maine has been struggling to sustain music programs in schools. Some superintendents and school boards cut music programs because some schools have weak programs, along with a lack of support from parents, which makes music an easy target, especially when budgets are tight.
Unfortunately, much of society is unaware of just how beneficial music is to every student in the program, both socially and developmentally. According to Becky Mallory, the Reeds Brook Middle School music director in Hampden, she has witnessed that the involvement in music has been very strong as long as she can even remember, not just for the musically gifted children, but for those on the edge of dropping out of school or getting into the wrong crowd.
She also had said that music can and has kept a lot of kids focused and allowed them to be part of something at which they could be successful and of which they could be proud.
“Aside from the cognitive development, fine motor skills, organizational skills, personal responsibility, time management skills and self-discipline associated with musical involvement, it is something that carries through life. No matter what career path students choose, music will always be there, and the relationships/friendships students enjoy throughout the years are priceless,” she said.
In many cases in Maine, the elementary music program is exploratory and meets for about 30 minutes per week. Because it is not English, math or science — which lawmakers have deemed the most important — it is easy to cut out. However, we know that is shortsighted, as educational research supports music in schools.
In performance groups, if not many students are being served or if the quality of performance is lacking, music becomes a target. This is too bad, because music is very useful if you really think about it. In fact, students who participate in music often score higher on standardized tests, are more connected to their school — which has been proven to improve students’ achievement — and those involved in music are generally happier and less stressed. Plus, children with learning disabilities or dyslexia, who tend to lose focus with more noise, could benefit greatly from music lessons.
Music programs can be harder for principals to schedule in the school day at a typical elementary, middle or high school. It can take up too much time in the schedule, depending on the school you attend.
According to Trevor Marcho, the music director at Mattanawcook Academy, it also depends on a certain town’s budget.
“Music programs are cut when funding is cut overall because of economic hardships in towns and cities,” he said. This is especially common in smaller towns. And since high standardized test scores are so important, “schools will cut the arts to keep or strengthen the math, science and English courses,” he added.
I’ve always had a surreal passion for music. I’m quite different from most music kids, though. When I listen to a certain song, I think certain colors and certain shapes. What does this have to do with anything? Well, 78 percent of Americans feel learning a musical instrument helps students perform better in other subjects, like math and science. Or, did you know that students who participate in a school band or orchestra have the lowest levels of current and lifelong use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs among any group in our society?
It doesn’t make sense. Why would you cut a program that actually helps children with their learning?
Emily Dunlap is an eighth grader at Leonard Middle School in Old Town.