Friday, March 18, 2011

Music and Memory

I’m Out and About, presenting poetry workshops at West Middleton Elementary School in Middleton, Wisconsin, but I can’t resist posting a quick comment on the important topic of Music in Our Schools Month.

When I was in grade school, we sat at our desks and sang along with the radio program “Let’s Sing!” (Anyone else remember that? “Let’s sing! Let’s make the rafters ring!”) I thought long and hard to remember one song we sang, and now I can’t get it out of my head. “Toreador, be on your guard . . . .”

One of the nuns at school gave voice lessons. She taught my sisters and me to sing “Welcome, Sweet Springtime” and “Ave Maria.” I remember climbing up a narrow stairway to the top floor of the school and practicing in a tiny room with a piano. I remember the music to both of those songs but not all the words, especially the Latin ones.

My older sister Peggy was in the high school choir. She used to learn all three parts of the songs the choir sang in three-part harmony and teach them to the rest of us. (Yes, we still sing them.) When she was a senior and Judy and I were juniors, the three of us performed as the Andrews Sisters in the high school musical, a version of “South Pacific” that someone adapted to include a USO tour with a trio of musical guests.

Does music reinforce my memory of these events, or do I remember them because music is important to me?

Our kids enjoyed musical opportunities throughout elementary, middle, and high school. One son played saxophone in the elementary and middle school bands; the other one sang in the middle school and high school choirs. The one who played saxophone gave it up when he started high school. The one who sang (and still sings) hung out in the choir room before, during, and after school. I have no doubt that music helped him survive high school.

My husband and I saw in our own kids how reading music reinforces math skills and promotes self-confidence. According to MENC: The National Association for Music Education, an education in music can also improve communication, cooperation, problem solving, memory, discipline, language, and perseverance.

With the current threat of drastic school budget cuts, I hope that decision makers remember their own musical experiences and those of their families. I hope they come up with some creative problem-solving strategies that enable kids to go on creating their own musical memories in schools.

Otherwise, what will happen to the choir kids? The band kids? The orchestra kids? How will they survive?

JoAnn Early Macken

P.S. from Carmela: Don't forget to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of the acclaimed YA novel-in-verse, Orchards, by Holly Thompson. See Esther's interview with Holly for all the details.

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