Earlier this spring, when the Prairie Spirit School Division announced the decision to cut band programs to address a $7.1 million budget shortfall, parents, students and musicians from across the province quickly united in protest. Their critical response influenced the school division to reconsider their decision and reinstate the music program.
It’s vital to protect school-based music programs, says Holly Nimmons, executive director of the Coalition for Music Education in Canada. The organization, headquartered in Toronto, has a mandate to ensure music education programs are protected in our country’s schools.
“We believe music education can change children’s lives. Learning music is for life. It transforms lives in many ways – for a lifetime. Learning music early means you are learning skills that are going to be there for you, for the rest of your life – critical thinking skills, creativity, innovation. These are all essential for development in your adult life,” says Nimmons. “We say ‘success in music, success in life – it’s just no coincidence!” Introducing music education at an early age enhances a young child’s brain development, says Nimmons. “It helps to develop the areas of the brain that are related to language and reasoning.
Learning music is actually one of the few experiences that affects both sides of the brain – the empathic and the logical.”
Nimmons shares a quote from author Daniel J. Leviton, excerpted from his book This is Your Brain on Music: “Musical activity involves every region of the brain that we know about and nearly every neuro sub-system.”
Cognitive and physical skills are required to play an instrument and read music, she points out. “You learn to read musical notation, then you play that notation. Playing an instrument requires physical skill, whether it’s a flute or a tuba. It develops your motor coordination.”
Learning music also helps to develop vital communication skills. “That’s something we really need in our schools: listening skills, literacy skills, numeracy skills, communication skills -finding and expressing your voice, all sorts of things. Learning music also helps to develop empathy for others. That’s a very important thing, especially when it comes to understanding other cultures as well as retaining our own culture.”
Why is it important for music education to be delivered through schools? Nimmons replies that it’s the most effective way to ensure the benefits of music reach the greatest number of children. “It’s a universal delivery system, a way to reach as many young people as possible,” says Nimmons.