I am now a little over four days removed from attendance at an event that reinforced my belief in my profession. Not that I really needed any reinforcement – I have always believed in the work that we do – but every once in a while it’s nice to experience a moment that solidifies all of the thoughts and reasons we have for our work.
I spent last week in Santa Clara, California, with 120 high school students from 32 states. The event was the National High School Honors Orchestra, and I had the honor of serving as the chair for the event. With the help of a hand-picked staff of eleven of the best music educators (and dear friends) from all over the country, the guidance of the phenomenal Maestro Raymond Harvey, and lots of administrative assistance from the talented ASTA staff, we brought these 120 individuals together on Tuesday afternoon for a week that one student would later refer to as “one of the best experiences of my life.”
On Friday night, as we listened in wonder to these students performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, the “Titan,” in a concert that would be described by parents as “amazing,” “wonderful,” and more, I could not help but feel a renewed spark of energy and a bit of enlightenment. “This,” I thought to myself,” is the future of strings, and of music education as a whole.”
Of course, at some point the afterglow fades away, and you are snapped back into reality, sometimes rather violently. I received a message from a long-time friend of mine last night, a fellow trumpet player who works in the Chicago suburbs as a systems analyst for a large high school. He needed my help – specifically, he needed data that reinforced the long-proven facts that students who participate in the arts perform better on standardized tests and in core curriculum classes. His words – “stop me if you’ve heard this before.” His daughter’s school system plans on cutting the fine arts curriculum to save money. Here we go again.
So my question for today is this – after witnessing something like the performance of the National High School Honors Orchestra on Friday night, how could anyone justify cutting the fine arts from our schools? Is the problem that not enough of our school administrators and school board members are witness to the positive impact that the fine arts are having on our students? Perhaps the studies aren’t enough – maybe what we need to be doing as educators is ensuring that those who make these decisions have first-hand experiences as to the power and impact of the arts. If you were in the audience on Friday night, there would be no way you could deny this.
So, how can we get our decision-makers directly involved in the experiences of our students? Do we show up with instruments on doorsteps? Any thoughts or ideas here? Let’s hear about the things that work for you, so we can all share your success!