Why Choir? (part 1)

Why do high schools have choral programs?  Why should high schools have choral programs?  I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about the rationale behind what I do, mostly because I’m writing the student handbook for the program I run at West, and I want a strong opening statement. 

But it’s not as obvious as I’d like it to be.

I could quote all kinds of stats about how much better students perform on other subjects if they’re also involved with music, but that approach doesn’t appeal to me for two reasons:

  1. I don’t like music to have to justify itself on the basis of how it supports other subjects, as if music’s legitimacy is somehow tied to how it serves “core” subjects, and
  2. I’m not sure that all those stats are all that legit.

The first reason hearkens back to my music ministry days, when I fought for congregational worship to be seen as a legitimate spiritual discipline in its own right, especially in churches where the 1st 45 minutes of the service are seen as merely preliminary and subservient to the sermon.  In the same way, I think we cheapen music education’s place in the schools when it becomes merely the handmaiden to English, Math, and Science; when it must produce elevated SAT scores to keep its place at the table.

The second reason reflects my default skepticism regarding correlative studies.  While it may be true that music students score higher than non-music students in other subjects, it’s not necessarily true that the higher scores are the result of the music study.  It very well may be that good students simply gravitate toward music programs because they can handle the increased courseload and work.

I want to take on an approach that acknowledges the associative academic benefits of music study while relying on a stronger argument for its main thrust–that music makes us better people and makes for better communitites.  That having a strong music program in a school makes all the students (even those who don’t actually participate in the program) better people if not necessarily better students. 

That a school could not possibly fulfill its mission in the community without a choir and a band.



3 Responses to “Why Choir? (part 1)”

  1. 1 Eugene June 26, 2008 at 1:47 am

    Your instincts are RIGHT ON! You are a thoughtful educator and we need more just like you! I am currently working on a post that ponders why we always hear about the benefits of music education and rarely hear about the benefits of music educating. I invite you to read our blog which expresses more ‘out of the box’ views on music education and keep up the good fight!

  2. 2 Mike June 26, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    You are right (as is Euge). Music is no different, nor should it be treated as different, than any other subject. The purpose of education is to help us;

    – learn “how to learn”
    – find what we are passionate about
    – expose us to different disciplines and different forms of problem solving
    – to develop our given skills/talents
    – to find what brings enjoyment to our life

    Education is not meant to be centered around developing our skills around how we perform on one test on one day or one performance on one day. Unfortunately, that is what the reality of education in 2008, in the US, has become.

    No wonder we’re no longer seen as the innovative nation in any field, other than developing reality TV shows….

  3. 3 mystic minstrel July 1, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    this is something i think about quite often as a k-4 general music teacher. isn’t the job of american education to give students the tools needed to enjoy successful well-balanced lives? i often wonder about our current music practices and wonder if we are preparing students for current music trends. in the digital world, i think the value of live performances have increased simply due to the constant access students have to digital recordings and videos.

    i am also writing a research paper on the value of non-traditional ensembles such as african drumming ensembles, orff instrumental groups, guitar classes and anything else outside of traditional band, choir and orchestra groups. i am interested on your perspective on that issue.

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