Saturday Music

02009-03-16 | Uncategorized | 13 comments

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do.

These are the final two paragraphs of a speech given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of the music division at Boston Conservatory, to welcome this year’s freshman class. Oh, I do like when a guy thinks big. I think he’s right, too. Music does align our insides – I think we have all experienced that. I have been keeping one CD in my car for the last six months, Yo-Yo Ma and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. Most of the music on the CD is by J.S.Bach and does it ever align my insides in traffic!

What will it take to firmly establish music in every school? I think the subject Music is as important for a kid as English or Mathematics, but many parents do not agree.


  1. Marsha

    I agree – music is one of the wonderful “medicines” for our insides.

  2. Will

    Although I agree with you and know what music can do to a young mind, I want to know what you think music does to a child/young adult or anyone for that matter. How does it transform and shape the soul and mind. i.e.

    English = imagination, exploratory, reflection

    Math = problem solving, critical thinking, solutions

    Science = experimentation, imagination, pushing the limits

    Music = All the above wrapped into one?

    Just curious.

  3. Steve

    I write as a musician turned engineer (electrical) turned teacher: I currently teach mathematics and physics at a private high school. In nearly every case, with PRECIOUS FEW exceptions, the students that do best in my physics, pre-calculus, and calculus classes are all in music program(s). Often those that place highest in my classes also have achieved a high level of musicianship, and most of them are very good improvisers as well.

    So … even though I have attended numerous academic conferences where the speaker claims no correlation between math and science with music, I have definitely experienced otherwise.

    I don’t understand why math and science is somehow “higher” than music in the hierarchy of education.

  4. yumi

    “I think the subject Music is as important for a kid as English or Mathematics, but many parents do not agree.”
    Very true. Artistic means of expression should be encouraged. It leads to creativity, sensitivity and touching upon emotions that can’t be delivered without it.

    Unfortunately, the arts are the first to be cut in a school budget.

  5. Ottmar

    Will: When I looked at your list I kept nodding. Everything you listed seems to apply to music as well. One thing that sets music apart, I feel, is that there are always multiple solutions. It cannot be pinned down as easily, which I suppose is also the reason it disappeared in so many schools.

  6. Adam

    Well, as an astrophysics major I have to disagree with the rest of the commenters about the relative importance of math and the sciences (they’re about as important for the facts you learn as for the modes of thinking you learn in the process – it’s crucial to have a grasp on how the natural world works), but that’s just me :P

    I remember, though, that I barely learned a thing from my music education in schools, to which kids barely pay attention (since it’s so poorly taught? I think it reflects deeper problems in education today). For me, it was all independent learning and guitar lessons. Yes, more music in the schools will be a good thing, but I have a feeling a better solution lies in parents instilling music in their kids than in trying (and trying and trying) to implement more and better music programs in schools.

    As Paulnack said, he doesn’t expect saving the world to come from the government.

  7. Thomas Faes

    Die Fiedler, Dichter, Spielleute, Zigeuner und Seiltänzer waren dem Bürgertum schon immer suspekt. Musik hat mit Ekstase zu tun – aus sich herausgehen, loslassen. Dies macht Menschen, die selber nicht darin geübt sind, auch Angst und es kommt zur latent ablehnenden Haltung. Dies gilt vielleicht weniger für die Gesellschaften in den südlichen Ländern:)

  8. Ottmar

    Adam: You have heard that math is music and vice versa, yes? I was always top three in my class in math.

  9. Boris

    Then I should have a better understanding of music since I had very good grades in math. But I had the top grade in music as well at school and never thought I would understand music or be able to transform what I passively absorb into active music making. I’m talking about simple thing like singing easy tunes or playing children songs on a wooden flute … At school they taught us about music but they did not teach us music at all. I hope it is clear what difference I want to point out. I was able to distinguish major and minor when I saw the notes but I had no idea what this meant when it came to singing or playing. The classmates who were better in music, who actually played an instrument they had extra lessons – a few, but the real learning time they had to invest themselves in their free time (where I invested my time in sports :)).

  10. Adam

    What Boris said :)

    And yes, Ottmar, I totally agree. I know way too many people who are brilliant (some rather preternaturally) at both.

  11. dave

    To me music is experiential & how do you grade internal experience? Since it’s so hard to grade it’s perceived to have less importance by people who cannot/do not have the ability to have the experience.

  12. Stevo

    It’s interesting to me how Math and Music can go side by side because I have always been terrible at Math. I can easily see how they’re connected especially when I was taking music Theory classes at a local college years ago. I struggled with that as well(except for the ear training part, that was a walk in the park).

    Regardless if music was taught in school or not, I always felt that my creative side was never nurtured. I feel the Arts in general are so important. Music, drawing, creating, anything to do with using your imagination. Just about every comment from my teachers when I was a kid was “he doesn’t pay attention in class” or “He day dreams” or “drawing during class” Well duh!! Creative people are usually well, creating! It turned what I was doing into a negative trait. No encouragement from the teacher to put my individually to good use or by giving me an alt assignment that may fit my personality. Although I don’t blame the teachers, not at all. I fault the system. They have to follow a certain curiculam, I get that.

    I think for things to change, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and start all over with a whole new outlook on the education system. People aren’t fast food where one kind of burger with the standard ketchup, lettuce, slice of Kraft cheese and a slimy little pickle fits everyone. And I also don’t think that adding a token music class in there will solve things either. Personally I found Music class boring. Who wants to learn about the baroque era when they’re 11 or 13? Learning about music in a text book is no different, it’s the same as any other class. It’s not hands on, nothing creative about it. I just don’t understand why the system is so focused on only the left side of the brain?

    And whats up with this helicopter?? It’s been flying around up there for 20 min! I need to go deal with this. Anyway, my two cents – great topic to discuss!

  13. Victor Hornback

    I read this entry Monday evening and went to bed. Sometime Tuesday morning I had a dream… I was riding a bicycle in circles while humming a tune in sync with the turning of the pedal cranks. Then I tried altering the rhythm while keeping the cranks turning at the same rate. And somewhere in the back of mind I thought this was an important exercise because “Cadence and pitch are the root of language and therefore of all learning.”

    So, I’m not sure if there’s something profound in that or just a strange fever-induced dream seeded by Ottmar’s blog.

    In thinking more about my own experience of taking music lessons (both as a child and an adult), having that in my life has been invaluable! There are the basics of cadence and pitch, there is awareness of others and teamwork, there is performing, there is abstract thinking and interpretation, there is improvisation, there is dealing with frustration and there is joy… all of that experience has flowed into activities that weren’t about making music.


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