FOCUS ON ADVOCACY: Music (and arts) for All in the 21st Century

In This Article:

“So what does this have to do about the 21st Century workforce? For me, it’s about the 21st Century ‘Life Force’.” 

-- Eric L. Martin, Esq., is the author of this CounterPoint article. He supports infusing the Arts into STEM to create STEAM, and interviewed several leading music education advocates about the sustained, positive impacts of early education in music and the arts.

Over the past several months, we’ve been inundated with campaign ads touting candidates of all persuasions and ilk. These ads showcase each candidate’s commitment and ability to address and solve our largest challenges, most important human needs, and their ability to perpetuate and attain the quintessential “American Dream.” Beyond the economy, much emphasis has been placed on maintaining or reclaiming our ability to compete and lead globally. The conversation about our young people is often, and sometimes far too often, about loss of our educational edge. Many say we are failing to educate and prepare our children for the competitive challenges of the 21st century.

Science, technology, engineering and math -- the STEM concepts we hear about so often -- have their rightful place, but I support moving from STEM to STEAM, infusing and demanding that the ARTS be inserted and recognized as a core, valid and vital part of the learning and achievement equation. What I care about in every student and professional I encounter, personally or through Music for All (MFA), is their “ability to think and reason.” I look for and build my faith in the future of our children, our nation, and our culture on the ability to teach children “how to think and reason,” a very different concept than “what to think.”

So what does this have to do about the 21st Century workforce? For me, it’s about the 21st Century “Life Force.” Everyone, from government to private employers, is looking for that “missing link” between the classroom and the workplace that transforms our students into entrepreneurial professionals with an edge (globally) over the competition. The 2010 Quick Poll on Employer Branding Today found (in order) that teamwork, achievement orientation, creativity and innovation, communication skills and international orientation were employers’ top priorities, followed closely by leadership skills and emotional stability. To meet those ends, they need only look to students and professionals who have received the STEAM preparation I’ve witnessed in so many Music for All alumni and supporters.

MFA alum, Christian Howes, a successful San Francisco Bay Area based Computer Software Designer/Engineer, comes back regularly to volunteer at Bands of America and MFA programs because he sees (and experienced) the value of music education. Christian says, “the skills that students are learning, the things that they're doing as a part of their music program, and their leadership experiences … these are the things that I look for when I’m hiring people. When I see on the resume that there is some type of artistic activity and leadership experience, I know that that is someone I’m interested in interviewing. It’s the skills that aren’t taught anywhere else that make that person stand out above the rest.”

I am fortunate to live in a state and in a community that truly embraces the importance of arts, arts education and a strong artistic environment. It is no accident that Kem Hawkins, President of The Cook Group, one of America’s largest privately held corporations, was the company founder’s middle school band director. Today, Kem’s student (who is the son of founder Bill Cook) is now The Cook Group’s CEO. Entrepreneurs clearly recognize and are attracted to a talent repertoire that includes evidence of creativity, creative instinct and problem solving.

Roger Eaton, Director of Marketing at Yamaha (Music for All’s National Presenting Sponsor), is the son of a mother who received her MM in sacred music from Union Theological Seminary, now Yale Divinity School. “She taught piano lessons at home and was a church organist, the only way for my single mom to generate enough income to raise three kids. Music was everywhere in our house. Mario De Capua, my 5th grade band director, taught me to play trombone. That experience connected me to friends and taught me discipline, commitment, and how to communicate with others. Interesting that the qualities I learned as a 10-year old are the anchor for my current job in the musical products industry. Both my children chose music at a young age and that experience undoubtedly led to their current success as adults with business careers in full swing. Each of them has exceptional math skills, exceptional interpersonal and communications skills, and a refined ability to ’get along with others.’ These attributes were listed in both of their company performance evaluations. All attributed to their experiences from being involved in music. My wife is a special education teacher and I’ve seen music be the ONLY connection that her 7th and 8th graders can relate to. It’s their portal to happiness and resolve. I owe my career, happiness, and life balance to music!”

It is also no accident that Music for All is blessed to be governed by leaders who themselves are the product and beneficiaries of quality music education. They are entrepreneurs, corporate executives, lawyers, accountants and community leaders who are passionately committed to music and arts education.

MFA Board Member, Sandra Kilpatrick Jordan notes, “In all areas of my life I am constantly seeking harmony, trying to weave the threads of many voices and viewpoints into beautiful, whole cloth. The experience of achieving and maintaining a first chair position gave me the inner strength to challenge others and myself for the greater good. I’m grateful for the life lessons I was learning while playing, practicing and performing music.”

Perhaps MFA Board Member and successful attorney Sam Hodson’s story makes the best case. Sam says, “I played saxophone in my high school wind ensemble, jazz band and was drum major in my marching band. I was not especially talented but the music program gave me the opportunity to: (1) learn to appreciate music other than that played on the radio; (2) perform in some really cool venues; and (3) experience working on teams which performed at very high levels. Since high school, I have learned that the true value of performing arts education has little to do with music. I have not played a saxophone in 34 years, but I enjoy the benefits of my scholastic music education every day. Band taught me habits and skills that have served me well in college, grad school and in my career as a lawyer and educator.”

The most important lessons I learned from music education are the value of dedication and commitment. Most other disciplines allow talented students to skate by and even excel through long stretches of little or no effort so long as they crammed the night before their exams. The professional world in which I live has little use for those who do not prepare. If I waited until the night before a hearing to start my preparation, I would get crushed in court. Success in the real world requires and rewards daily focused effort over intelligence and talent. For several years, I taught preparation courses for law school and graduate business school admissions board exams. I told my college students that skills, not knowledge, would enable them to score well. The process was akin to learning to play a musical instrument and no one has ever learned to play a French Horn on the night before a concert. I have practiced law for over 26 years and interact regularly with high-level professionals in finance, accounting, academia and even medicine. The number of these folks who participated in high school band is astounding.

Former Indiana Lt. Governor Kathy Black says, “Music education and particularly my experience in high school band in Indiana taught me the important of practicing fundamentals, striving for excellence, encouraging all members of a team to develop their skills, and giving that little bit extra when performance time comes. I left Indiana 34 years ago for a career in management and law that gave me the opportunity to live in three different regions of the U.S and travel to 25 countries on six continents, but I use those lessons from my Indiana high school band every single day.”

The arts, and particularly ensemble experiences in the arts, have always provided an edge for development and appreciation of creativity, in an environment that is defined by collaboration, group and individual problem solving, mutual respect and cooperation. If it is true that success and a successful workforce in the 21st century requires critical thinking, creative problem solving, innovation, effective communication and team work, then every American child’s scholastic day should include an active “hands-on” experience in the band, orchestra, dance, theatre, art and/or choir room. The goal is not professional artistry. They all will not become MFA alum, Christopher Martin (Principal Trumpet of the Chicago Symphony), or MFA alum and renowned actress Jennifer Morrison (“Touched by an Angel,” “Dawson’s Creek” and “Star Trek”), or even Carl Cook or Kem Hawkins, but they will be better prepared and more able to compete and contribute meaningfully in the 21st Century.

-- Eric L. Martin, Esq., is President & Chief Executive Officer of Music for All, Inc. and its operating divisions: Bands of America and Orchestra America.