Funding for music and creative arts education has been cut in public, as well as private schools across our nation. Students are discouraged from pursuing careers in the creative arts by teachers who convince them that success can only be achieved by having a ‘real’ job. The bottom line shows that music and arts education is quickly becoming a pay-to-play endeavor for those few who can afford private instruction. In determining the importance of music education, it is critical to examine how education (or the lack of it) has affected the musicians we listen to today.
Budding artists find themselves through trial and error. Michael Jagamin of A Skylit Drive knew he was destined to be a musician at 11 years old when he saw a KISS performance. He went on to distinguish himself as a drum captain in his high school band. But Jagamin found his true talent through singing and is currently one of the top rated vocalists in post-hardcore metal music today. Without the opportunity to try different ways of making music and discover where he belonged, I would not be able to enjoy various renditions of “Rise” while I do my homework.
One thing leads to another. Nick Santino was drawn to the arts when he was in school. He loved photography, and expressing himself through various artistic mediums. However, as Santino advanced to the upper levels, he found less and less to choose from. Classes were dropped due to budget cuts and some were combined into fractured classes that made no sense. He turned to music, concentrating on singing, guitar, and songwriting. Years of hard work and dedication, on his own, gave Santino a successful run with A Rocket to the Moon and a solo career that allows fans to enjoy “Have a Little Faith in Me”, from his debut album Big Skies, every day on the way to work.
Passion is not a paid position. Members of Christian metalcore band Fit for a King found that their school would support music education, specifically voice lessons, as long as the money did not come from their budget. It was considered an extra-curricular activity. Lucky for them, one teacher gave her time and expertise freely to mentor students who wanted to learn more. From that point forward, music shaped their lives as they realized that music is more than what we hear on Creation-Destruction. Music is a way of thinking for Fit for a King that influences lives with the message it sends.
The heart wants what the heart wants. For twin sisters Mercedes and Phoenix Arn, homeschooling provided an integrated education where music was part of the lesson plan. Taking private lessons at their own expense, the young musicians were able to explore many facets of music before founding Courage My Love and releasing the wildly popular Spirit Animal collection. The advantage of having music education at an early age is that it produces multi-talented artists. Mercedes is featured as a vocalist/guitarist, while Phoenix is a drummer/vocalist. Their lyrical proficiency in songs like “Breathing Room” and “Do As You’re Told” defines the triumphs and disasters of youth, something we can all relate to.
Music education is our responsibility. My roommate, Rachel (an accomplished guitarist), came from a small town in Ohio where music education had been all but eliminated. At the tender age of 15, she gave free lessons to neighborhood kids, loaning them instruments and equipment along with chord charts to practice. Rachel spent hours explaining that she could teach them how to pick out one Metallica song, or teach them how to play guitar so they could play all of the Metallica songs. As a result of having music in his life, one young man stopped getting into trouble and began doing his homework on time. Another of Rachel’s students went on to become a custom guitar designer.
It is time for public schools to get real about creative arts education. Trimming the ‘fat’ from budgets is a good start, but there is so much more they can do. Private or community organizations can be tapped to provide instruction, equipment, or coaching. Using more technology in the classroom, specifically e-textbooks and tablets, would save enough money in a mid-size high school to pay for comprehensive music classes for every student. Music education should be provided to all students, no matter what economic class they come from, because a world without music would be unbearable.