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Bring Back the Music

I am a long time Buffalo resident, parent, and Buffalo Public School vocal music teacher. In my school, International School 45 on the Lower West Side, we have not had an instrumental program for almost 10 years. If we want to help our struggling students, our foreign-born English language learners, our at-risk and in many cases severely traumatized and poverty-stricken students, please restore instrumental music education, with regular rehearsal time in the schedules for all ensembles, including chorus, orchestra, and band.

It has been scientifically proven that music is crucial to the development of the learning process. There is now a growing body of scholarly evidence telling us that students must play, sing, and otherwise process music for optimal brain function. Researchers at Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child and the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University, among others, have measured the neurological effects of music training in students. If we want to help our struggling students, music holds tremendous potential for cross-wiring the brain and building connections, more effectively than anything else that we know.

Brain scans of children taken while they were involved in complex problem solving, or “executive functioning”, indicate more areas of activity in the students who have participated in an after-school music program for one or two years. It turns out that playing an instrument develops a type of brain activity called “executive function.” Executive function skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. The brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses. These are not only the basis of mathematical reasoning and literacy, but the foundation of all learning. For these functions, music changes the brain more profoundly than any other intellectual, creative, or physical endeavor.

Playing music creates more pathways between the hemispheres, allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes. It does this at all ages, but especially if started in childhood. Playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body work-out because it engages practically every area of the brain at once—especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices, and if practiced regularly (and that is critically important) it has the effect of strengthening these functions, allowing us to apply that strength to other activities, in both academic and social settings. If we can’t find the money to fund a proper music program, we are doing our students a terrible disservice.

The growing body of research finds that music instruction can help bridge the achievement gap with at-risk students. Here in our district, we have a 100 percent graduation rate for all students involved in instrumental music. Musical education makes people happy, and students learn more when they are happy. Please restore instrumental music in every Buffalo Public Schools, both for our own sake, as a responsible school system, and more importantly, for the sake of the future of our children.


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