To Ryoko Baba
Music has always been a part of man’s life. In ancient times, even before anyone spoke about the importance of music education, old nations and tribes made music. It was not due to the abundant publication of papers and dissertations, all pointing out the influence of music education on the cognitive abilities of the child and thus on his or her achievements in school. Music has always been a part of man’s social life. It was there in religious ceremonies as well as in other occasions. It had been there long before researchers have spoken about the influence of music education on the social skills of the child.
I have asked many music teachers what were the most important values they were hoping to pass on to their students. Many of them gave similar answers: striving for excellence, persistence, precision and sensitivity to details. Others said: listening to the others and being a team player.
As we know, music education is very expensive. Does all this justify all the money spent, so many hours of practice, so much emotional stress on the part of students, parents and teachers alike? Can’t the same values and qualities be developed in other ways, maybe through less expensive activities? Doesn’t a basketball team contribute to the development of persistence and team playing of its members? Don’t our school teachers talk about the importance of details and about precision? Why then bother and learn how to play music? What is the connection between all of these and the primary drive of the ancient people to make music?
Three things have fascinated me in my twenty-six years of work in music education.
- The pleasure young people derive when they hear the sound of good music well performed (even without knowing anything about it).
- The pleasure young people have from playing the game of music.
- The ability young people have to interpret music and their ability to express themselves freely even without understanding the musical language and much before they are technically proficient.
In many languages we use the same verb for playing a game and playing music. I think that in the cynical and pragmatic world we live in, it is a must to preserve the play-like quality of music making at every level and at any age. Playing music is done for its own sake and for no apparent reason. We are delighted by the game-like exploration of endless possibilities and by the discovery of new and previously unknown ones. Young people are not afraid to use things they learned in one context in yet another new context and this way, by saying to themselves, “this is like…” a new and wholesome world is created in every piece of music.
Much has been said about music and language. Is music really a language?
In his book, The Singing Neanderthal, Stephen Mithen mentions that there is a resemblance between language and music since they are both made of distinct units such as words and sounds. Yet, the character of those distinct units is very different: words have a symbolic meaning, whereas sounds are not associated with a specific meaning (p.17). Music can attribute different meanings to the same sentence. A baby does not understand the symbolism in words but he or she certainly reacts to the intonation of our voice. Such is also the case with our pets. We can speak to our beloved pets total nonsense but they will understand, just by the intonation of our voice, if we mean well or there is a threat. Music is the safe zone where we have the freedom to feel, understand and accept our own feelings as they are. A safe zone where we can express in our playing or singing what we really feel and what we really want to say, without worrying that someone will be offended, be angry or ridicule us.
As educators we must never forget the primary drive for making music:
Fascination with the beauty of sound and rhythm, The game of imagination which is not limited to a mere description of phenomena and the need for deep expression of our personality, without fear and without stops.
 – See in my blog- What game shall we play today
 – Mithen Steven, The Singing Neanderthals, HarvardUniversity Press, 2006
A year ago in November 2011, I started this adventure – The Blog. I am back after an intense summer full of traveling and events. One thing I know for sure:
It is all about the people!
One of the exciting events this summer was a talk session in Fukuoka, at a wonderful place called Shikiori. I started this session by reading this short essay. The essay was in Hebrew and I was translating it as I read, into English. If this wasn’t hard enough, next to me stood Ryoko Baba who translated everything into Japanese.
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