It’s not hard to believe in the idea of ancient musical behaviour in our most distant ancestors. First Nations show us the importance of music to a stone-age culture so surely the stone-age periods of every other people relished the music making and songs in much the same way. It’s a safe bet that the very behavioural foundations of mankind depict a skillset that was deployed from the earliest times to make music.
Beating sticks on a log, hollowed out wooden tubes, primitive bone flutes, taut skin drums, the human voice singing and stones clattering in a gourd or any of a thousand ways to make music are easy to imagine. When combined with whistling, clapping, singing, stamping and dancing the fireside version of the orchestra and the symphony are all too plausible. Especially when a pristine environment full of windy boughs heavy with singing birds and calling animals thick in the forests and grasslands are there to spur the developing imagination on. That perhaps may be the problem.
Year after year, study after study, organisation after organisation, institution after institution tells us definitive how good learning music is for the developing child. By now we all know the metrics off by heart.
Math scores are improved on average for these kids, communication and language acquisition improves, physical development, social and emotional skills and on and on there are so many areas that show clear improvements the arguments for investment in this area at this time make themselves. Also we later find that a dollar spent on early childhood music education leads to ten or twenty dollars worth of academic outcomes in the final years of schools.
Improved concentration, more maturity in the learning environment, better memory and intellectual development all map closely onto the progress of students involved in music from an early age. Indeed, data indicates that any time in the music arena aids with children’s outcomes. So again, what’s the problem? Is it because, like above, it is so innate in us that we can all imagine the complex music to be made with little effort. Does this feature of our self-knowledge rob us of the understanding we should have about the importance of music education?
Sometimes I wonder if those in authority, almost all non-musicians, consider it just like play and something that will happen automatically. Strangely this does not seem to extend to organised sports which are well funded in every school and district. The authorities definitely get it for sports. So what is the problem with their “getting it” for music?
Perhaps if it was a little harder and a little more obscure we might be more willing to act. But no, we seem to whistle along and hum a happy tune, just like everyone can, and many believe that the hum, the whistle and the simple song is enough and it covers the requirements of what can be called attention. True, those simple tunes are fine but they fall far short of what is possible for so little effort in time and money.
We know that music is good for Australians social, cultural and economic growth and we know that music education improves confidence, self-expression and fosters creativity. For some reason those who are in the position of power the argument of why music education is vital for our country is falling short. We also know that music develops neural pathways and enhances brain function while connecting communities throughout the country so where does the problem lie?
The next time you are moved to tears by a great piece of music, or your head is turned and heart sent racing by a band of passing pipers, or you are motivated to great efforts of body, soul or mind just think of how far a whistle, or a hum a happy tune would have fallen short. Measure these changes in the greatness of invention, exploration, discovery and sheer audacity to face the future that a great people can marshal and think on whether they are a bunch of hummers and whistlers or if they are full of orchestral wonders, harmonies and inspiring song.
Just think what a few dollars at the right time can do.