Dr. J. Mulliken
17 November 2014
How Can American Society Come to Appreciate Classical Music?
The world of classical music seems to be falling apart at the seams. The economy can be to blame, but to find the real cause we must look deeper than that. Across the globe, no one country’s classical music economy is hurting worse than that of the United States of America, and the question is why? When America is striving to be the best in all aspects of life, why are the arts and specifically music being overshadowed in our culture, and how can the American people come to appreciate and even love classical music? Through my research this year, and my lifetime of participation in music while living in this under appreciative culture, I believe I have found a way that could truly change this society. The underlining key to appreciating classical music is to educate the general public (especially the generation that is still in school). This does not mean everyone must learn to play an instrument or sing, but I believe that educating people is the first and most important step to creating a society that will appreciate classical music and all the arts.
When dealing with educating the public, the first thing people are bound to ask is, “Why does this even matter?” It is a fair question and one worth explaining. Many people believe playing music is just a hobby and do not think that there is any value in learning to play music or learning about it. However, it has scientifically been proven time and time again that music helps with the development of children and even adults. Most likely one has heard about the “Mozart Effect,” and how listening to Mozart or any classical music can help in the development of children even when they are in the womb. Music plays a vital role in child development. In a particular research experiment to prove that classical music enhances child development, two kindergarten classes with the same curriculum were chosen; the experimental group had classes with the music of W.A. Mozart in the curriculum, while the control group did not. Here is a chart with the results.
Table 1. Estimated Marginal Means
Exp Group Control Group Total
Domain sex Mean SD mean SD mean SD
Social male 79.896 2.727 61.313 2.970 70.605 1.987
female 80.805 3.725 55.238 3.260 68.021 2.433
total 80.350 2.342 58.275 2.240 69.313 1.560
Cognitive male 111.787 3.504 75.787 3.675 93.787 2.397
female 107.414 4.538 70.043 4.106 88.728 2.941
total 109.600 2.976 72.915 2.894 91.258 1.880
Physical male 80.640 1.869 68.295 2.032 74.467 1.380
female 72.148 2.548 60.377 2.234 66.262 1.697
total 76.394 1.578 64.336 1.511 70.365 1.074
This table shows that those who listened to Mozart and had music integrated in their curriculum scored better on social, cognitive and physical levels. “Music enhances the social development of kindergarten children as it engenders calmness and relaxation, thus reducing impulsiveness. Music also helps them to listen to others and communicate more effectively, leading to an improvement in empathy, and the development of enhanced social skills” (Mattar). This is one of countless studies done proving that music is a crucial developmental tool that should be used in schools to help children develop into tomorrow’s leaders.
There are also those who are educators or are so focused on getting the United States on top in math and sciences that they believe all other fields of study are less important and therefore should be cut from schools. Although their thoughts are good in nature, in reality, a loss of music programs in schools would be detrimental to the nation’s education system. In fact, a recent study shows, “students of low socioeconomic statuses who participate in the arts have better social and academic outcomes than those who do not participate in arts instruction” (Doyle). When the American society becomes so dead set on getting to the top in the “important” subjects, we sometimes think the best approach is to cut everything else out of the picture. In theory it sounds accurate, but the well roundedness of someone who is cultured in the arts cannot be replaced. Leon Mones, a published music author writes, “Western culture may become to strictly a pattern of scientific research, technological implementation, expert social control, streamlining of domestic conveniences… all of which are fine and desirable, but devoid of those artistic experiences that add a sense of permanence and value to the structure of our personality and our society” (Mones). In some of our weakest educational systems in America, those consistently making it to the top of their class and going on to do great things have spent time studying the arts in some way, shape, or form. This certainly can be applied to those in higher income school systems as well. Not only does music help with development and education, it can also be a student’s oasis from the roughness of everyday life.
Besides the importance of music on human development and the links it has to success in other subjects, music is important in the growth of an individual’s emotions and soul. It is important for youth to develop an imagination and express it while in their developmental years. Too often students get run down and are pushed until they break. Music and other arts can be an outlet for them; something for them to do for fun and that allows them to grow as a person and a scholar all at the same time. Music programs are imperative to keep available to students in schools across this country and the world. “In general, because of strong links to emotion, music in the classroom can promote a positive environment that enhances children’s development.” (Mattar). Music needs to be a part of curriculum in schools and a part of everyday life. It is too valuable to one’s emotional needs to be neglected. With all of this data on why music is beneficial for people and the popularity of classical music in other countries, it is hard to see why there is such an absence of interest from the American culture.
After we as a society have dealt with the question of why it is important to have music in our society, the next logical question to answer is, “why is there a lack of interest in classical music?” The United States of America, more so than any other major country, has a lack of desire to integrate the arts into the education system and into the culture of everyday life. The American culture has had its fair share of great moments in music, such as the creation of jazz, but still lacks true foundation in classical music. In the book Classical Music in America, the author Joseph Horowitz states that America’s culture, “has produced many fine artists and striking moments—but no institutional or intellectual support to sustain them” (Horowitz). This quote really hits the problem head on. Lack of classical music in the American culture does not exist because of a lack in ability to create great musicians or great orchestras. World famous musicians are consistently being developed in the United States, and several orchestras, such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, are considered to be some of the best in the world. Even when that is true, American society still lacks interest, and it always has. One thought I have on why the United States is behind in musical culture is due to the fact that it never was established at the creation of the nation. If you have ever been in music history courses, composers and music in America do not get mentioned until the 20th century. I believe that is due to how hard of a life the “New World” once was. When settlers first came to America, the goal was to survive and that was narrowly achieved. There was no room for music. Even as the nation was taking its first steps towards independence and becoming a free country, the focus was to survive and grow. Then we wanted to become a world power. All of this was great and has served our country well, but there is still no denying the void of music and the repercussions it has positioned our society in today. So while we were fighting to survive and fighting to grow into a world power, other nations were not in a music void; they were developing classical and folk music. The powerful names of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms were taking control of social society and people were enthralled by music. I believe this is a step that America has missed; we have not developed a society that loves and lives for the arts, and we certainly still feel these issues today.
On top of the general public being uninterested and uninvolved with classical music, another problem that must be faced is the fact that certain demographics do not even have practical potential to be involved in such activities. In a research article published by Kenneth Elpus and Carlos Abril, they give a wide array of findings about demographics of high school students involved in music programs. They have some findings such as sixty-one percent of music students were female. This sort of statistic is not worrisome; the ones that are deal more with the extremes. A few examples of these extremes would be the statistics on race; they found that 65.7% of all students were white followed by a huge drop off to 15.2%, which represents the percentage of African Americans that are participating in music. Statistics like these are a cause for deep concern. To get the United States as a whole to participate and appreciate music, we must make it more readily available for all. This includes more than just demographics on race. It was stated in the research that big discrepancies are found depending on where students live and go to school. 51.2% of music students go to suburban schools, while 27.6% attend urban schools and 21.3% are rural. It is a real disappointment to know that students may not have the opportunity to shine and reach their full potential because of where they live. I know of some absolutely wonderful musicians and educators who have changed the face of music and they grew up on farms. It is hard to believe what they would be doing now if they had not been involved in music just because of where they lived. Of course it is impractical to say it can be even across the board, but all students should have the ability to learn this great art. This is one of the essential points to look at when thinking about how to change music in the American culture.
When discussing how to change society to appreciate the arts and especially music, I believe that people must look at two areas to start making a change. The two areas that need to be targeted are the youngest generation, and the areas that, at the moment, have very limited if any resources for music and art education programs. The youngest generation is such a crucial part of developing societal change. We need to immerse them in music if real change is going to happen. If the youngest generation is not interested in something, then how can change be expected to last as they get older and have their own kids? The nice thing is that kids are eager to learn anything and everything, and music can be an absolute blast for students of all ages. So the reason that there is a lack of interest has to do with a lack of participation and knowledge. If you do not grow up doing certain activities, chances are you will not ever have knowledge of interest in those activities. If students were taught the academia fields of music such as theory and history and had the opportunity to play and perform in bands, choirs, and orchestras, they at the least would have more respect for music and they would likely even enjoy it. Not to mention they would benefit from all the before mentioned benefits of being involved in music. An analogy that comes to mind if that of soccer vs. football. Even though soccer is the most popular sport in the world, why do more Americans prefer football? This is due to the American culture. If you ignored our culture and decided to play and watch soccer as a child, most certainly you would like it and surround yourself with the sport. This is true of any activity and can be easily applied to the appreciation of classical music. Music can easily become a passion and desire of today’s youngest generation if we simply immerse them in it, and when they get involved with different music programs, the value of music on each individual’s development will be obvious.
The second demographic that needs the immediate attention of all music advocates would be the areas across the United States that continue to have the lowest amount of funding for music programs or no funding/program at all. All children deserve the opportunity to grow and develop into their full potential and music can help them reach it. The sooner the general public knows the importance of music and the lack of music programs across the country, the ball should start rolling to get this country moving in the right direction. These truly affected areas are mostly found in the inner city schools or any school in a low-income area. According to a study done on demographics of music students and programs, “Students in the lowest quartile were significantly under-represented in the music student population, while those in the highest socioeconomic quartile were significantly overrepresented among music students. The odds ratio indicated that music students were 1.71 times more likely to be in the highest SES quartile than they were to be in the lowest SES quartile” (Elpus and Abril). Most of the time people either see too many problems with the school system in the inner city that they choose not to help. Another tactic used is the extreme focus on the core subjects. However, a more affective idea is to fund music and arts. It keeps the students engaged, and allows them to have fun. In return they find themselves enjoying school more and getting better grades. They also join extra curricular programs instead of getting wrapped up in gang culture. Music can truly save lives and sadly it is not found where it may be needed most. However, even with all this being true, “students of color and those of low SES are strikingly underrepresented in elective music classes; many students in urban areas may not even have access to high-quality music programs because of social, economic, and political issues in their local areas” (Doyle). Music is crucial to our society but sadly few see the importance. It is important that all see this importance and those those who do not already have music programs start to create them. Then, with more information being thrown to the general public and the benefits of music being proven through research hopefully places, especially those in low income areas, will get music entwined in their culture and reap the benefits of doing so.
It is easy to see that music and the arts are very important. The results show why music is important; such as the way it helps people develop as human beings. Yet, with the benefits, there is a severe lack of interest in classical music that continues to grow. The lack of interest has been a long fought fight for advocates of classical music. This fight must continue to be had by all music lovers. It is our job to inform people and spread this wonderful art form that has been a staple in societies since ancient Greece. Through the youngest generation, we can start to change society and help classical music get a long overdue firm foundation in this already great American culture.
Doyle, Jennifer Lee. “Cultural Relevance In Urban Music Education: A Synthesis Of The Literature.” Update: Applications Of Research In Music Education 32.2 (2014): 44-51. ERIC. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
Elpus, Kenneth, and Carlos R. Abril. “High School Music Ensemble Students In The United States: A Demographic Profile.” Journal Of Research In Music Education 59.2 (2011): 128-145. Professional Development Collection. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
Horowitz, Joseph. Classical Music in America: A History. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007. Print.
Mattar, Jehan. “The Effect Of Mozart’s Music On Child Development In A Jordanian Kindergarten.” Education 133.3 (2013): 370-377. ERIC. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
Mones, Leon. “Music And Education In Our American Democracy.” Music Educators Journal 100.2 (2013): 74-78. ERIC. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.