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Investing in Arts Education

The Transformative Power of Music Class

Kathleen D. Sanz

President and Board Chair, National Association for Music Education

Music education has the power to change students’ lives, teaching invaluable life-skills no matter their future profession.

This year marks the thirty-fifth annual celebration of Music In Our Schools Month® (MIOSM®), an observance the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) began in 1985. Each March, music educators demonstrate their music programs, inside and outside the classroom. Earlier this month, ensembles performed in state capitol buildings for lawmakers and elementary choirs sang at community events; the air was filled with music. Even during school closures, music programs congregated online in virtual concerts.

Music educators and administrators saw music education’s impact at the national music education conference last fall in Orlando where a school ensemble called 3 Strings UnLoCkeD performed. This group from Southwest High School in Minnesota is comprised of students with disabilities. Under the direction of Ruth LeMay, Director of Guitar Education at Southwest, students learn musical skills using a form of music reading she developed.

This year the theme for MIOSM® is “Music Changes Lives.” This truth is evident in the lives of music students around the country. For many students, music class is what motivates them to come to school. Music class is where they find their voice and express themselves. Music students not only work on personal musical goals, but also together as an ensemble, collaborating to develop the best sound and expression. Those experiences in strengthening communication, creative self-expression, persevering in practice and rehearsal, thinking critically about their performances, and being flexible in leading and following are all invaluable skills that will benefit them regardless of whether they practice music professionally.

We need well-rounded individuals fully prepared to give back to their communities and be ready for the work and careers of the future, to be productive contributors to their communities and move our societies forward, and to be empathetic to the needs of all people.

The federal education bill called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed into law in 2015, explicitly named arts and music as a part of a well-rounded education for all students. This is a critical opportunity for stakeholders to ensure that music education is fully funded and supported at the local, state, and national levels. Providing equal access to high-quality music education for all students, regardless of income level, background, or ability, is essential for ensuring all students stand on equal footing to contribute fully to making their world a better place.

As the parent of one of LeMay’s students said, “Michael finally fell in love with high school, and I truly believe it all started with that little music class. Ruth made his life bigger.” Music changes lives indeed.

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