As Funding for Music in Schools Decreases, The Salvation Army Increases Music Instruction
“Music in our Schools” month is celebrated in March as a way to shine a light on how music helps the body, the mind and the spirit work together. Sadly, the increased focus on the three R’s – reading, writing, arithmetic – in schools has caused funding cuts in art and music education, leaving children with few creative outlets during and after the school day.
The Salvation Army understands the importance of music to the overall health and well-being of children and is doing all it can to make up for the dwindling music education in schools.
“We’ve always had music happening on Sundays but now we are extending those programs out. We are doing this to reach out to the community and to provide music education at no cost in several different ways. For instance, in Nashville, we have an after school care program. Since the kids are already there, why not reach out through systems that are already in place. Also, we have word of mouth. This happens a lot. We encourage the kids in the Sunday programs to bring their friends from school and their neighborhoods. Most parents are very happy to do that because their children can learn a skill for free,” said Dr. Joel Collier, Divisional Music Director of The Salvation Army, Kentucky-Tennessee Division.
Music education provides many benefits to children. It fosters confidence, teaches discipline and promotes group responsibility.
“I view music education as a tool. I recognize that as I have kids walking through the door that the vast majority won’t be professional musicians. But that’s not the goal. The goal is a dedication to showing up and practice and being involved. We teach the skill of perseverance. These are skills that are transferable to other areas of their lives, like math homework. More exciting than that is that learning the basics of music theory reinforces math skills. The more advanced the music theory, the more connections with math. Music and math are common double majors,” Collier said.
Listening to music improves certain functions of the brain, but actually playing music enhances spatial reasoning. Studies show that students with better spatial reasoning skills tend to do better at mathematics.
“Talking about music skills, I directly reference skills they already have like fractions. Then it becomes second nature to them, like half notes and quarter notes,” Collier said.
Growing the number of music programs in the Division and ensuring they continue is important to Dr. Collier.
“Many of our programs are still new but two programs stand out to me. The Richmond, Kentucky, program is one of them. In Richmond, they are teaching brass, piano, guitar and voice with the help of students from Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Music. Nearly a dozen university students come over and teach. Even after these students graduate, the program will continue. It’s a partnership that will last,” Collier said.
Another new music program is causing excitement as well.
“The second program is in Nashville, Tennessee, at the Magness Potter Campus. It is an afterschool program that already exists. We saw an opportunity to directly reach out to the students who are already there,” Collier said.
The Salvation Army Magness Potter Community Center coordinates over 15 collaborating private and public social service providers offering a variety of services to this community of more than 10,000 people, particularly economically disadvantaged families and at-risk youth.
“There is an old Salvation Army saying: ‘If you teach a kid to blow a horn, he won’t blow a safe’. The time factor to learn a musical skill and the amount of time they have to put into practicing it is a direct deterrent to bad habits,” Collier said.
Studies show that making music with others reduces risky behavior. For instance, students who participate in organized music lessons such as band or orchestra have lower levels of substance abuse. This is something Dr. Collier can personally attest to:
“I have never smoked. Habits that involve smoke would damage my lungs and my voice,” Collier said.
His personal experience is not something he shies away from sharing with his students. His faith is a big part of why he promotes the benefits of a musical life.
“We are not shy about this being a religious experience. We pray before we begin our lessons and we pray after out lessons,” Collier said.
After completing his first summer as director of the Conservatory at Camp Paradise Valley, Dr. Collier couldn’t be more excited about the next one.
“We had a very excellent year and I am so happy with the progress the kids made in especially the Senior Conservatory. For this summer, we will keep the same disciplines but are expecting an increase in the number of participants and we are expecting a lot of returning students. We are excited about our partnership with Eastern Kentucky University. We will be adding up to three weekend performances away from the facility,” Collier said.
Music education is a passion for The Salvation Army, as it is for Dr. Collier, for a variety of reasons.
“I think it is important for people to understand that music education is not simply to train someone to be a professional musician but to learn to be an appreciator of the arts. In college, many of my fellow band members had majors in other fields,” Collier explained these fields were medical, scientific, and the humanities.
Dr. Collier said that learning music promotes ability and that music students learn a desire to create good work instead of average work. This goal can then be applied to all subjects of study.
As “Music in Our Schools” Month is celebrated in March, The Salvation Army rejoices every day that music study helps create a positive attitude toward learning that develops the whole child – mind, body and spirit – including a child’s imagination, a God-given gift.
If you are interested in volunteering or donating, go to http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/volunteer for additional information.