How can music empower students and a community?

Posted by Ronald | November 4, 2011  |  6 Comments
music

Ronald W. Holmes, Ph.D.

A fisherman uses bait to catch a fish just as a teacher uses a lesson plan to teach a student. Sometimes, however, the bait and the lesson plan are not enough to accomplish the task. As a result, the fisherman uses bait with the support of a lead weight tied to the line to hook the fish. Similarly, the teacher uses a lesson plan with the support of an extracurricular activity to hook the student to the lesson.

Throughout the U.S., there are many stories of how teachers have used extracurricular activities or non-core areas to entice their students to learn. For this article, the questions to be asked are: How can music education empower students and a community? What role does music education play in academic performance? What value should we place on teachers of music education?

As schools face budgetary shortfalls, one of the first programs to be cut is music or other areas of fine arts. The movie, “Thunder Soul” is a documentary about a remarkable 92-year-old band teacher (Conrad O. Johnson) and the reunion of the 30 members of his stage band at Kashmere High School in Houston, Texas. “Thunder Soul” reminds us of the value of having music in the school curriculum. In the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, Johnson, better known as “Prof,” rigorously prepared his students to compete on the local, state and national levels as a stage band.

Johnson differentiated his instruction and incorporated music everybody across the country was playing along with rhythm and blues that nobody was playing on the competition level. As part of the competition, students were dancing and swinging their horns with synchronized choreography of professional performers. In the classroom, this was similar to teaching mathematics and incorporating hip-hop music in the lesson. The whole idea was to engage students, maintain their attention and get them to hone their craft.

As a renowned musician, Johnson got the best out of his students. They achieved academically and musically at the highest level possible and gave the school and community a sense of pride, distinction, purpose and credibility. Kashmere High not only won the National Stage Band competition in Mobile, Alabama, but also gained appearances to perform in Europe and Japan. The success of the band was so contagious and motivating that the school excelled in academics and sports. This supports the research that music does have an impact on student achievement particularly for those students who are in the band since it is one of the eight multiple intelligences that people possess.

When schools have this level of success, everyone wins such as students, teachers, parents, administrators, the community, state and nation. Students at Kashmere High were taught how to learn, apply learning to life and give back to their community. In fact, their return to Kashmere High after 30 plus years to do a tribute in honor of the teacher who inspired them to be productive citizens was a testament to the importance of teachers in the lives of students. Amazingly, the student who was known as a thug and was on track to become a felon led the charge to return to the school 30 years later and direct the stage band in a live performance before Johnson’s death.

While inspired by the movie, entertainer Jamie Foxx has committed himself to be the ambassador for “Thunder Soul.” As noted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Foxx said his grandmother started his playing piano at age five. At the time, he felt bad because everyone was outside playing football. However, he later realized that the sacrifice enabled him to get a classical piano scholarship to United States International University in San Diego, California. According to Foxx, “music can do something different. It can take you somewhere. Extracurricular activities make things better. The clichés work.”

This documentary helps to reiterate that the teaching profession is one of the most profound professions in the world. We just have to believe it, encourage people to be a part of it and commercialize it the way we do entertainment. Just think of the day when our media consistently covers positive stories about teachers such as Conrad Johnson. Just think of the day when the teaching profession becomes just as important as the entertainment business and salaries are consistent with the value of a teacher’s work. After all, the teaching profession prepares students for every occupation in life. For Kashmere High, the alumni came back to the school as lawyers, doctors, musicians and other professionals. They felt committed to the school and loyal to Johnson who helped them experience success in life at an early age.

As a child, I learned how music was significant in two of my sisters’ lives in high school. Both of them spoke proudly of their band teacher and, particularly, about how he prepared them to learn music and perform proficiently in the classroom, band concerts and at football games. Even today, they reflect on the impact the band teacher had on them which reemphasized the importance of music and other fine arts programs in school.

Education must return to the business of molding students to learn salable skills and applying the knowledge gained to other components of school and life. The school system cannot do the job by itself, however. The school system must use the appropriate bait to entice parents and the community at large to be an integral part of our future workforce: our students.

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