in the Schools
the past 25 years, I have been trying to get music into the
regular curriculum of the public school system. It seems that
I’ve been banging my head against a brick wall. The “powers
that be” always promised me that it would happen, but
only once did they keep their promise, when they put a music
program into the tenth grade, which was obviously far too
late, and then, quite soon, withdrew it. Each time I approached
the schools to advocate for music in the curriculum, I was told
that I only had inconclusive data for doing so–when we
all know that introducing music as early as kindergarten does
not present inconclusive evidence! It is all too true that children
who receive these music programs write better, perform better
in math and are measurably better equipped to grasp the fundamentals
of an academic curriculum.
There are some excellent music programs, but they are randomly
distributed and dependent upon the largesse of the citizenry.
One such program in Opus 118 in Harlem, directed by Roberta
Guaspari, who has done more than wonders in providing music
education to inner city school children by reaching out to various
schools with her string programs. The River East School is one
recipient of her outreach efforts. When I visited the school
one day with fellow music education advocate Matilda Cuomo,
the young musicians that we heard perform were doing much more
than playing “Rock-a-bye-baby!” Their faces solemn,
they headed to their places and raised their instruments. I
could not hold back my applause. Not only had these children
learned how to play an
instrument, they had also learned the discipline and cultivated
the self-esteem that will allow them to function successfully
in today’s world. This performance was subsequently featured
on the Today show, hopefully lending credence and giving exposure
to the importance of music in the schools and the gifts that
it bestows upon those children involved.
As far as I’m concerned, I would be nowhere today if it
weren’t for music, but then I had advantages that most
of the city’s public school children do not. My mother
had the financial means to provide me with music education and
train my voice. I even had the great fortune to receive some
of this instruction in Europe.
I knew that it wasn’t possible to provide all of this
to public school children, but the thought of them going through
these formative school years without any kind of formal training
whatsoever seemed absolutely reprehensible!
As the newly appointed chair of the New York State Council on
the Arts, I was able to win my first battle at a hearing in
Albany in front of a packed house. My interviewer asked me why
public assistance should be given to music students, since I
myself had not had it. The blood rushed to my head. I burst
out, saying, “But that’s just the point! I had help
from my mother, but I want every kid in the state of New York
to have the same opportunities that I had.” Everyone in
the room applauded, and my interrogator smiled at me and said,
“That’s one up for you, kid!”
Perhaps, yet we still have a long way to go and much convincing
to do in order to provide our children with what they deserve:
a well-rounded education that must include music.#
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