Friday, December 04, 2009

A case for the fine arts in education

In third grade I lied to my parents and told them that third graders were too young to take instrumental music lessons from school, even though third graders who expressed serious interest were permitted to start a year earlier than typically. I don't know why I said that, given that I'd always thought of taking violin. But by fourth grade, when I think parents were notified through a letter sent home, I was in. I signed up for clarinet lessons, in part because a clarinet would fit in my backpack.

Nine years later, I would graduate as the concert master of my high school band. That just meant I was the first chair, first clarinet and that I tuned the band before concerts, even though I didn't have the ear to really understand intonation.

I thought that would be the end of my perfoming life, but in college my desire to attend University of Arizona basketball home games won out over my desire to drop music and fall semester of freshman year I joined the marching band, because only marching band members could audition for pep band (and pep band was the only way to guarantee good student seats to every home game).

Four years later, I graduated having sat courtside for a basketball national championship, but more importantly having cried my eyes out before, during and after my final marching performance at a football game. I knew that was the end of a chapter in my life.

I am so thankful that my parents encouraged me to try marching band. It was there that I learned to be accountable, how to lead people and equally as importantly how not to, to take pride in being a band geek, to see that different genres and styles of music are all just music and ultimately take my first steps becoming the person I am today.

And I am also equally grateful that I had those opportunities growing up and in college. It's why I am so passionate about the fine arts maintaining a thriving presence in public education. Sure, like with football and basketball, most high school violinists, tuba players, percussionists and oboe players won't become professionals. But they'll be forever changed by the experience, in almost every case, for the better.

It's one of the reasons I love the new show Glee so much, too. It really took me until I moved to Los Angeles to fully, proudly and publicly embrace loving musical theater, marching band, Star Trek and all those other subcultures of pop-culture-stereotyped popular kid ridicule. And now that there's a buzz-worthy show about high school kids who sing and dance ... wow. The only bad thing about Glee is that it makes me regret not supporting the other fine arts students at my high school, particularly abdicating my responsibilities to help out by doing pit orchestra for the musicals. I sucked. But as amazing as Glee is, it's a television show with ridiculously (at-times) over-produced numbers.

So perhaps to really appreciate the role and importance of the fine arts, check. out. this performance from the kids at PS 22 in NYC. (thanks, Jacquie for passing this along. I was chills for virtually the entire time.)

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