A Hymn Song on Music Education

by Christyna Ellen Ogonis

From the writer: My passion for music was my inspiration for this piece. As a significant part of my life for the past 9 years, I felt that my trumpet was a symbol of how important music was in shaping me into the person I am today. Without a doubt, all the music teachers of my past were major influences for this paper. Along with teachers, the friends and the relationships I’ve made from being a part of a musical ensemble, played important roles in composing this piece. I tried to use an abstract approach for this assignment, which called for the analysis of an educational artifact. Being a freshman at Syracuse and missing my one true love (the silver trumpet which now sleeps in my hometown of Westfield), I decided it would be fitting to try and include my instrument in some part of my work here at SU.

From the teacher, Molly Voorheis: Christy Ogonis’ essay on music education is a WRT 105 analytical essay constructed around an artifact key to her educational experience. What makes the essay interesting to read, I think, is the way Christy interweaves her own experience in high school bands with her research on the importance of music education. She moves this essay beyond a personal narrative to a thoughtful analysis of an educational topic important to her.

From the editor, Randall Monty: To make reading this piece most effective, replace music-as-the-victim-of-school-cutbacks with your favorite subject. All of a sudden it becomes a story of "the man" kicking you down. It is equal parts reflection (of the author) and description (of music). History lesson. Adolescent flashback. Filibuster. It could have been a story about death, but it contained too much vitality.

  Sitting in the black case, its gold complexion glows back at me. Months of dormancy have left its surface cool to the touch. Running my fingers across the cold metal, I occasionally skim a scratch or dent formed by its eight years of use. He is my trumpet. To some it represents merely a sound amplifier, producing music with its brassy tone. To me, it sings the melody of my history, with the sound of my own dedication. I was only in fifth grade when began my journey towards music. But even at that young age, I believe I grasped the importance of music education in a student’s life. For hours a day, for nearly a decade, I would sit and practice, measure after measure, until satisfied with my performance. It is my love and appreciation of the art that has kept me playing for these past eight years. Music has taught me the importance of practice, dedication, and teamwork. It has without a doubt shaped me into the confident, determined young adult I am today.

  The main problem is that everyone in the community is not fully aware of the importance of music education in public schools. Too many budget cuts and misguided beliefs that the arts are not essential have led to the increasing decay of music funding in schools ("Music Basic").

  Over 200 years ago this was an all too familiar scene, until one man changed the public view. Lowell Mason of Medfield, Massachusetts molded the foundation of music education in public schools. At an early age, he dedicated all his time to the practice of singing in church choirs. In 1720, music entered the school system as a simple way to produce better singers for church services. But the arrival of Mason created a different aspect to the pursuit of this art. Mason came to Boston to teach, and immediately set out with two goals: (1) Creating a higher standard for singing in school teaching and (2) Improving the overall quality of the material being taught. Mason believed that "any child who could read, could sing", and that music should be available to every child ("Historical Overview"). In 1836, Mason proposed to the Boston school board that music should be included in elementary schools. Successful with the suggestion, vocal music became the first artistically expressive subject to be taught in the curriculum of public schools ("Historical Overview"). Being a music-lover from Massachusetts, Lowell Mason holds a strong place in my heart. As a senior in high school, my own band performed a piece at a competition called, "A Hymn Song on Lowell Mason."

  Watch measure 36, No! You’re half a beat ahead!We had been practicing for nearly an hour now on the same 15 measures. I slumped back in my chair dreading the sound of yet another squeaky clarinet or saxophone. Are trumpets ever going to get to play? He always does this. Why do we spend so much time on woodwind parts and not enough on the brass ensemble? Westfield High School was to perform in one hour at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and we weren’t nearly ready. Our dedication to Lowell Mason was going to be a disaster, and with the grim faces surrounding me, I could tell many felt the same way as I . Soon the hour passed, and I was onstage playing. The hall echoed with perfect rhythm and beat; by the end of the song my lips were swollen from the intense playing—but I didn’t care, I was giving the best performance of my lifetime. Our practice had paid off, and Lowell Mason’s name was given the honor it so deserved The auditorium in which we played literally sang with the appreciation of such an influential man.

  Pressing the scuffed valves on the tarnished instrument, my mind drifts to this memory of practice feeling challenged by a note, endurance, and teamwork. The Westfield High School Concert Band fought the battle with "A Hymn Song on Lowell Mason," and we walked out in victory. So why, if music is so inspiring and influential to students, do those in charge of funding schools put the arts last on their list?

  Looking at out nation’s academic history, we can see that at one time America was in a desperate race to produce the best and brightest students in the world; these optimistic times were the 1950’s. With the Russian’s victory in the spacerace, the United States began to panic over the education of future generations. More focus was put on science-related subjects. Today, society seems to be in a similar struggle. With modem technology, students are expected to be proficient in computer programs, medical sciences, and mathematics. The U.S is in constant competition with other industrial nations like Japan in producing the most intelligent members for the changing job market. Yet where does music fit in this pursuit of excellence?

  Excellence used in this context seems to mean being well educated. As Ronald Reagan put it:
  "I have always believed in the definition of an educated man or woman, as one who could, if necessary, redound his or her civilization. That means we must teach our students more than hard facts and floppy disks. We must teach them rich artistic inheritance of our culture and an appreciation of how fine music enriches both the student who studies it, and the society that produces it. The existence of strong music and fine arts curricula are important to keeping the humanities truly humanizing and liberal arts education, truly liberating." (qtd. in "Why is Music Basic")

  So here we have a full definition of what student education should be. Yet can all schools honestly say they produce an education as well-rounded as Mr. Reagan would have liked it? A. Graham Down, president of the Council for Basic Education has written that too many schools today view the arts as diversions from the really important subjects in school, such as reading or mathematics.

  The federal government spends nearly twenty-nine times more on science education than it does on arts education (Down). This, along with my own personal experiences, I’ve noted that too many students feel band, chorus, or any other artistic forms of expression are courses that will only result in an easily earned credit at school. Although, this is a small number of individuals, it’s sad to see the underappreciation of such fine opportunities to excel in ones education. Even more, it’s disturbing to see students pass up the opportunity to be mentored by some of the finest musicians their community has to offer.

  Westfield High School - Program of Studies - Music Department Philosophy:
   The Music Department believes that music at Westfield High School contributes in a most significant and unique manner to a desirable, long-range objective in education: The development of a cultural and aesthetic awareness. It is important that students learn to understand the efforts of the mind, the voice, the hand, and the body which give dignity to the human being. ("Program of Studies")

  In my hand I hold the metal object, lifeless without the instruction of my teachers and classes. Their philosophy for music education in the school system is one that numerous students have taken advantage of. These professors gave up their time to help us be successful and conquer even the hardest forms of music practice. If one were to ask why they chose such a profession, their answer would most definitely not involve money. Music instructors are in their profession for their love of the art. Teachers, especially music educators in Massachusetts, make far less than what they deserve. And when the person teaching the class does so with such an intense appreciation for music, it benefits every student.

  But despite the many instances of insufficient funding, the community cannot be completely disregarded for its support of music education. Over the years, more emphasis has begun to take root in the importance of education in schools. Statistics have shown that students engaged in music score more then 30 points higher on both their math and verbal scores on the SAT’s (Down). In addition to this, parents are now seeing a great improvement in the memory and oral skills of children who participate in music lessons and instruction. In fact, according to research done at a music-oriented preschool in California, children taught the basics of music excel in activities involving concepts of spatial relations. Many teachers agree that every child should begin music study, "as early as possible" (Rubiner). Parents have begun to take part in their children’s music education, by forming groups such as B.O.P. —the band and orchestra parents associations in many schools. No longer does the future of a music program rest upon the shoulders of the instructor, but now a family has been formed which is determined to support and aid the growing number of individuals getting involved.

  I shivered in the early morning sunlight Thanksgiving Day, below 25 degrees, and here I stood dressed in polyester and wool, peering out from beneath my hat. This was of course the Football Half-Time Show, and as a member of the WHS Marching Band, it was my duty to perform one last time as a senior. One last time, what a thought! Never again would I stand on the end line, waiting for the second quarter to be over. Years of music in the stands, rooting for the team, soon enough time would steal these moments from me. Yet as I blow air softly through my mouthpiece, I realize in my arms, next to my heart, is an object that will never let me forget these memories. We’ve come a long way my friend, I thought to myself, as percussion began the street beat. And as I raised the trumpet high, my reflection in its bell reminded me that I have many years of memories to come.
Perhaps the federal and state governments do not see music education as being worthy of excess funding, and maybe school boards can’t comprehend the need for the arts in public schools. But those of us who understand, those of us who have grown up with music, will stand for its cause. It has improved the lives of millions of people worldwide—and something that significant is worth fighting for.

Works Cited

"About the Foundation." National Music Foundation Website. 30 June 2001. 25 Sept. 2001. http://www.nmc.org/about.html.

Buffington, Allen. "Historical Overview of Musical Philosophy". Personal website. 25 Sept. 2001. http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/5876/overview.html.

Down, A. Graham. "National Report Sounds Music Education Alarm." Report based on conference. Music Is Website. 6 March 1991. 25 Sept. 2001. http://pionet.net/~hub7/national.htm.

Rubiner, Betsy. "From Melodies to Motor Skill." Music Is Website. 16 Nov. 1997. Des Moines Register reprint from 27 Sept. 2001. http://pionet.net/~hub7/dmr2.html.

"Westfield High School Program of Studies." Westfield High School Website. 29 Sept. 2001. http://www.ci.westfield.ma.us/schools/whs/program.html

"Why is Music Basic: The Value of Music Education". Music Is Website. 25 Sept. 2001. http://pionet.net/~hub7/value.htm

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