The Sound of Music: Falling Upon Deaf Ears? | Teen Ink

The Sound of Music: Falling Upon Deaf Ears?

April 29, 2019
By joshb0314 BRONZE, Palos Verdes Peninsula, California
joshb0314 BRONZE, Palos Verdes Peninsula, California
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

“The only truth is music” -Jack Kerouac


Well, some people can’t handle the truth, in this case, quite literally.


Music is a privilege, a privilege in the respect that it is often the first aspect of our lives to be cut when the budget tightens.


As a result of extreme budget cuts, a record “30 percent of public school students in Oklahoma” did not have access to fine arts classes.[i]A shocking 1.3 million elementary school students across the country lack music classes, according to Children’s Music Workshop, an educational company centered around children.[ii]Of course, schools can hardly be put at fault for such measures; after all, in this age of STEM-focused careers and classes, it makes sense to teach children to read code before music.


That argument makes one broad assumption: all students fare equally under this deprioritization of music exposure. The truth is anything but. The reality of the situation is that the aforementioned budget cuts impact mostly the already economically suffering of society. With the Trump administration’s measures to lower education spending on public schools while bolstering charter schools, the issue at hand is further exacerbated. If a school is unable to bring musical exposure to its students, the responsibility falls to the families, which entails footing the bill for instruments, lessons, orchestra fees, and everything else that follows. The problem is apparent in more places than just our country. In the UK, “41% of low-income families” report being unable to afford music lessons or instruments, effectively being priced out of musical exposure.[iii]Simply put, music is a facet out our culture that eludes much of the country.


It is incredibly easy to wax on and on about the implied importance of music without naming any tangible benefits, especially in the face of attractive alternatives such as computer classes and other STEM courses. It must be acknowledged that music is more than just the idle pursuit of the artistically gifted. It must be acknowledged that it is something worth preserving for the average student.


Music is an exercise, an exercise that sharpens the mind.


In the same way that we consider physical education a vital part of maintaining the well-being of the body, we must consider that music maintains the well-being of the brain. Johns Hopkins researchers found that in a study of thirteen adults, after a few piano lessons, “their attention, memory, and problem-solving abilities” were bolstered, despite playing at an extremely beginner level.[iv]The same sentiment is applicable to children as well. Access to music, whether it be through school or privately, can train children’s brains in a variety of essential skills. It follows, therefore, that to rob children of the ability to play music is also to rob them of mental exercises that other, more fortunate children receive on a daily basis. But beyond this, music can serve as more than a training regimen, for it can be a binding force between students as well.


Music is a community, a community that keeps its members productive.


When addressing lower-income brackets of society, it is not nearly enough to focus on only economic disadvantages. It should be known that students in low-income areas face more than financial hardship. More often than not, the youth can find themselves in danger of criminality when left unguided. A California police officer addressed this issue quite succinctly when asked how to keep the youth out of trouble. The answer?


“Keep them busy,” he said.[v]


For many students, playing music can fill this role. The extracurricular activity of performing music as a group can keep kids out of risky behaviors in a safe and proactive way.


An example rooted in reality is the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra, a touchingly true story of Paraguayan children that construct instruments out of literal landfill trash. These children would build violins or cellos or guitars out of scrap wood and oil drums and learn music together as an orchestra.[vi]The orchestra quickly grew in number to 35, and parents saw their troubled, poverty-stricken sons and daughters gain a new focus.[vii]In the community of Cateura, in which a real violin is worth more than the average house, the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra demonstrates the caliber of community that playing music can create.[viii]


School bands or orchestras can foster a sense of community between students surely, but unfortunately, these advantages loop back to the same question: How do we implement this? After all, the problem is not reaching a consensus on the benefits of playing music, rather, the problem is bringing this to areas in which families are barely getting by in the first place.


If governments were to prioritize music financially, it is likely that another vital facet of education could fall behind as a result. The best way to make such a massive change to educational infrastructure is to implement new measures, rather than scrapping old.


Odds are, you probably have an old instrument sitting around. Maybe it is a child-sized guitar you got for Christmas years ago, or maybe it is a school-issued clarinet that you had to play in fourth grade. Such is the case for many Americans; in a survey by the Gallup Organization, 54% of American households “have a member who plays a musical instrument.”[ix]Instead of throwing out an older instrument or letting it gather dust, Americans should change their mindset. There are plenty of grant organizations and charities taking old instruments. If just a tenth of these households donated an instrument, that could probably amount to millions of instruments for the next generation.[x]Schools and community centers could host donation drives to encourage such behavior. Even a slight increase in donations could still benefits a cluster of children for the better.


Of all the facets of inequality, exposure to music is one of the most ignored. But once the problem is identified, resolution is possible. Levelling the playing field by which children grow up with can be partially accomplished through access to playing music.


Music, as it stands, is a privilege, an exercise, a community. With the cooperation of citizens and organizations, playing music does not have to be a pursuit of only the financially able. Music does not have to be a privilege, and that is the real truth.




[i]Wendler, E. (n.d.). Decline in school arts programs follows funding drop, but cuts aren't equally felt | StateImpact Oklahoma. 

[ii]Children's Music Workshop. (n.d.). About Children's Music Workshop. 

[iii]Winrow, E., & Edwards, R. T. (2018, November 13). Poorer children priced out of learning instruments but school music programmes benefit the wider community.

[iv]Johns Hopkins. (n.d.). Keep Your Brain Young with Music. 

[v]Ukiah Police Department. (n.d.). Busy Teens Stay Out of Trouble. 

[vi]Jhed, J. (2012, December 13). The Landfill Harmonic Orchestra. 



[ix]Gallup Organization Reveals Findings of "American Attitudes Toward Making Music" Survey. (n.d.).


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