Music matters for today’s students

Studies have shown time and time again how important music and the arts are within the schools. But these classes are also among the first eyed for cuts during belt-tightening.

Ways to connect with music

Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras holds inexpensive concerts that are kid-friendly.

Juicebox series is free and is held at the Chicago Cultural Center and Garfield Park Conservatory.

Old Town School of Folk Music offers music classes for kids and adults as well as concerts by professional musicians from around the country.

“There are lots of benefits, including getting the body moving and stimulating the brain. Test scores go up, truancy goes down and attendance goes up,” says Joshua Simonds, the former executive director of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, who devotes himself to advocating for arts in the schools as part of a well-rounded education.

Exposure to music teaches kids that not everything is black and white, and different people can have different feelings about the same piece of music, says Charmian Lyons, head of music at The British School of Chicago and North American regional lead for the Juilliard-Nord Anglia Performing Arts Program.

Music also gives children overall confidence, as well as having links to improvements in math, reading and other areas.

“Music is a huge part of what we do here at school,” Lyons says. “We start at age 3 and learn singing and percussion, as well as keyboarding and different instruments. We want them to be engaged with the arts and open to all different types of music.”

Lyons says the collaboration with Juilliard-Nord Anglia Performing Arts not only allows even the youngest students to have keyboard lessons every week, but it also lets them study 12 core works by composers from around the world.

However, not every school has the opportunity to be paired with a world-renowned music institution.

Often parents think music in schools is an “all or nothing” concept, Simonds says.

“They think, ‘If we can’t have a band, we can’t do anything,’ and that’s really not the case,” he says. “There are so many other ways you can bring music as a school. Maybe it’s having a general music class, or having guitar or percussion. There are many different levels and price points.”

And as a parent, you can advocate that having music in the schools is a priority. Each school in the Chicago Public Schools system has an arts liaison who works to integrate arts into the schools, and there are other groups who work to bridge the gap between the private and public sector as well.

Melissa Mallinson, program manager for education outreach for Old Town School of Folk Music, says their school has partnerships with about two dozen schools around Chicago, including CPS elementary schools and high schools and private schools for students with special needs. Their in-school programming allowed 3,878 kids across Chicago to have music experiences in the school setting.

“We work closely with our CPS partners to align our curriculum to support the core arts learning standards, as well as social-emotional learning and relevant Common Core state standards,” she says.

Ways to support music

If your child’s school has the worst-case scenario of no music offerings, there are still ways you can make sure they are exposed to music, Simonds says.

“First thing you can do is turn on the radio. You can listen to classical music, but I also have my children listen to rock, pop, world music and other kinds as well,” he says.

Chicago also has free concerts around the city. For example, the city’s Juicebox series at the Chicago Cultural Center and Garfield Park Conservatory is geared specifically toward exposing kids to music, Simonds says.

Even listening to the “bucket boys” street performers is a good way to expose kids to rhythm.

If you’re not familiar with music yourself, many music festivals offer a pre-show talk where a guest speaker will explain the piece that’s going to be performed and give you tips on what to listen for, Simonds says.

“For many of these things, the only thing it costs you is time. Not every kid is going to like it, but they need the opportunity to decide if they do or don’t.”

Mallinson agrees.

“We support the CPS Arts Education Plan, which says we should have music, dance, theater, visual art and more for every child, every grade, every school. Many people are working hard to make this happen, but sadly it is not a reality at this time,” she says.

“But there are many wonderful community arts schools in Chicago, including Old Town School, that offer programs for kids. In addition to fee-based classes, we have many affordable and free kids’ concerts and workshops, as well as a robust scholarship program for families who need financial support.”

What is critical is encouraging kids to grow through music, and that means parents should expose kids to their own love of music.

“Groove along to music while you’re cleaning the house or driving in the car. Make up your own silly songs about your daily routine. Stop and listen with appreciation when you hear a busker or a live band in our amazing city,” she says.

“When parents show that they value how music is part of a rich, vibrant life, kids will benefit, emotionally and educationally. They’ll know that their own expressions of art have value, and that they themselves are valued, because that’s what their parents show them.”

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