My three-year old son has an interesting bed-time ritual. He pretends that a discarded power-bar is his guitar and he is a rock star. Two cushions are put up against the head-board as pretend speakers, the bed is his stage and then the show begins with him strumming the pretend guitar. After a ten minute gig, he hits the sack. As an infant, for the full first year of his life, he would not sleep without soft, music in the background.
I firmly believe that we are all born musical (by musical, I mean interested in music-listening or playing). It is a physiological pre-disposition. But in the early years, sometimes our upbringing and influences, deliberate or otherwise, take music out of our life, our being. Some of us are fortunate to reunite with it in our later years while some learn to live without music, treating it as any other sound!
Science has convincingly proved the value of music in brain development. Students who are musically engaged in school or at home, have superior spatial reasoning and better able to work mazes, draw geometric figures and copy patterns of two-colour blocks. Also the limbic area is a key area activated to music creating a feeling of relaxation and well being. It is no coincidence that musical notes are sequential and necessitate an understanding of measurement, proportion, and pattern perception.
Music is a language in itself, a form of communication. It speaks about feelings and desires, beauty and courage, suppression and discrimination, joy and love. It is one of the most popular and potent forms of expression. That perhaps explains the strong correlation between early language skills and music.
It is not surprising then, many parents buy music for their infants and toddlers. Sometimes, even earlier, buying and playing it to the unborn child. But what happens when the child enters the formal school system. Why in the hierarchy of subjects, the 3Rs take precedence over something that comes so naturally to children. Music and dance relegated to a weekly lesson, if at all. The message being, music is something that you do once in a while, there are other more important things for you to do and learn on a more regular basis!
Why is it that the first casualty of any budget cut in the school, district or board is the arts programme? Why does the school not think of making little cuts across the spectrum or think of ways of cutting the cost of all programmes without impoverishing children’s learning experience? Why is it that in some countries/states/schools, there is no music after the primary years? We are talking of an age-group that is the target for all musical products from i-pods to CDs. Yet we choose to ignore a natural inclination and pre-disposition while framing our curriculum and designing our teaching-learning!
As curriculum developers and decision-makers, are we plain dumb, that we fail to take cognisance of proven research, or is just a case of misplaced and skewed priorities, having sold education to the market forces?