Why Study A Musical Instrument
By Dr. Edward Joffe
Throughout much of the first half of the 20th Century, the study of music was considered one of the important disciplines in a learned individual’s education. Every student had at least one mandatory general music course in middle school (junior high school) as well as in high school. Most importantly, many also had the opportunity to participate in a band, orchestra, or a choir in grades K—12. In fact, during the 1950s and into the 1960s when the U.S. was engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, the Arts in our country were given great priority (funding) since we needed to demonstrate superiority in this sector in addition to military might, space exploration, athletics, etc. There were also numerous jobs in the music industry during this period. Steady work could be found in symphony orchestras, opera and ballet companies, Broadway pit bands, television and motion picture studio orchestras, dance bands, jazz big bands, Latin music ensembles, and an endless amount of freelance recording. However, today we find ourselves in a radically different environment.
Societies for thousands of years understood the benefits of an education that mandated a wide array of arts as a part of the curriculum. “Plato’s ‘music’ included not only what we call music today, but also the dance, poetry, fine arts, literature, history and other areas of study known as the Liberal Arts.” (Assemblyman Edward C. Sullivan, ALLEGRO, 10/98) European culture dating back to the Middle Ages defined an educated person as someone who was musically literate. As European immigrants migrated to the U.S. in the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries and brought their traditions and customs with them, musical education became a vital part of the American definition of a well-rounded education.
Technology has altered the way we consume and listen to music today. Changing musical tastes have redefined the means by which music is produced and the number of musicians required to perform newer musical trends, resulting in a loss of most steady work. In addition, educational curriculums have moved further away from the concept of a liberal arts education to an educational policy of increased specialization at an early age. America is obsessed with a left-brain education that can easily be quantified through standardized testing procedures. The creative aspect of the brain—the right side—has been left in the rear and parents are left to pick up the pieces. Educational policy in America is now being determined more and more by businessmen and schools are being run like a corporation. And they are failing! Combined with the economic downturn of the last decade, this has resulted in politicians and education supervisors allocating less money for the Arts. All of these forces have created a different attitude in this country’s view of the study of music and the Arts in general. This discipline is now perceived as an extracurricular activity that’s nice to have on a student’s résumé if one can afford the time and expense, but not essential.
Why Should One Study A Musical Instrument?
The answers to this question are multifold. The study of music requires commitment, patience, attention to details, and an ability to organize one’s time. Learning to read musical notation and employ it in manipulating an instrument is akin to learning to read any language and therefore reinforces those skills in addition to improving hand/eye coordination. The performance of music also demands that one learn to interact with others in rehearsals and performances in order to create successful presentations. Performing in front of audiences helps to build self-confidence and can enhance one’s ego. All of these characteristics are necessary to succeed in any discipline—the study of medicine, law, business, education, athletics, etc. However, these should not be the principal reasons for someone to begin studying an instrument. Here are my ideas behind the rationale for music education:
a. Sophisticated music making of any style is an art form and requires both talent and intellect to produce and perceive.
b. Both performer and listener are able to explore emotions through music that words alone often fail to elicit.
c. Music allows one to gain a greater understanding of world cultures.
What Can A Parent Do?
In the same manner that children are enrolled in after school activities such as soccer leagues, tutoring programs, and religious instruction, parents need to find the cultural outlets for their children that the schools don’t provide or don’t do well enough. This includes music instruction.
The goal of providing a music education should not be to see if one’s child has enough talent to become a star, elicit a scholarship from a college, or become a professional musician. I believe the philosophy should be to allow any youngster to become a lover of music and the arts. One doesn’t develop a lifelong passion for music by taking a music history, general music, or theory course in school. Humans get it when they are actively involved in the process—whether studying music performance privately, participating in a band, orchestra, chamber ensemble, jazz ensemble, choir, rock band, etc. One learns to love baseball by playing the game, not by studying statistics. Once these performing opportunities are made available to youngsters at an early age, they are more likely to have a greater understanding and respect for those artistic endeavors and will tend to support them throughout their lives.
There are many musical instrument companies that make decent quality student-level instruments at affordable prices. Any parent willing to provide their child with the best education possible should do everything they can to offer them the opportunity to study music privately in addition to whatever music may be offered at their schools. As parents, it’s our obligation to define what type of education we desire for our children and not leave it in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. I can think of no better way to do this than by allowing our kids to experience the thrill of owning and playing a musical instrument.
Versatile woodwind artist Dr. Edward Joffe has been a vital part of the New York music scene for over 35 years. He has performed in every type of musical situation including jazz bands, orchestral work, Broadway shows, recording dates, chamber music ensembles and solo recitals. He has offered numerous clinics on woodwinds and jazz at music education conferences and universities over the last two decades. A graduate of the Juilliard School, Dr. Joffe has studied with some of the most respected woodwind artists including Joe Allard, Eddie Daniels, Thomas Nyfenger, Paul Dunkel, Michael Parloff, Joseph Rabbai, Peter Simerauer, Ronald Reuben, Keith Underwood, Bob Porcelli, and Bob Mover. For the past 19 years, he has been a professor of music at New Jersey City University, where he acts as Coordinator of Jazz, Woodwinds & Brass Studies. Under his guidance, New Jersey City University has engaged a faculty of adjunct instructors who are among the finest performers in America and have helped attract a high level of student performer.