This Is Your Brain on Music…

practicingA friend recently celebrated her birthday, and, although I won’t disclose here which birthday it was, the event was special enough that her husband decided to rent a place, hire a band and celebrate in style.  The location of choice was the Academy Bar and Eatery in Winnipeg, and, the band of choice, The Dust Poets, an entertaining, bluesy, folk group, who amongst their members include the best man of the aforementioned husband of my friend.

My friend has a degree in music, and, with three kids under 5 at home, spends her limited free time teaching piano lessons.  Her husband, who works in the computer field, is also a trained and accomplished musician, in his case, specializing in trombone. As a result, amongst the friends and family in attendance were some musical types, including a band teacher who performs with my friend’s husband in a wind ensemble group.  Next to us was another guest who had spent some time as a librarian.  We got to talking about youth and musical education.

The former librarian noted her old school never had a band program when she was there. The band teacher said she knew the teacher who had eventually started a band program in the same community and that the program had been very popular with students.

I mentioned to my companions at the Academy eatery that despite my career in writing and librarianship, band was always my favourite class at school.  The band teacher replied that it only made sense for someone interested in writing to be attracted to other artistic pursuits as well.

Students at my school can take band and/or guitar as part of the curriculum.  A number of them are contemplating a future career in music. Some have even gone so far as to start a band and play local events and fundraisers.  Although these students are mindful that they may need a backup in case their dreams to perform for a living fall through, playing music, listening to music and even reading about music has had an obviously positive impact on their lives.

I find that even students who tell me they don’t really like reading, will gladly read a book about one of their favourite musicians which includes performers ranging from Johnny Cash to AC/DC.

So, after my discussion last night about the positive impact of music on students, I’ve decided to investigate some books related to music as possible additions to my library.

One is a book I’m sure the many talented guitar players in my school will enjoy called,   Wisdom for a Young Musician.  The book, published by World Café, is billed as a practicum for youth interested in following in the footsteps of their musical heros and includes first-hand advice from over 75 famous musicians including Neil Young, Sting, Sarah McLachlan, and Elvis Costello.

The other is called, “Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music” by Glenn Kurtz. From the publisher:

“With insight and humor, Glenn Kurtz takes us from his first lessons at a small Long Island guitar school at the age of eight, to a national television appearance backing jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, to his acceptance at the elite New England Conservatory of Music. He makes bittersweet and vivid a young man’ s struggle to forge an artist’ s life— and to become the next Segovia. And we see him after graduation, pursuing a solo career in Vienna but realizing that he has neither the ego nor the talent required to succeed at the upper reaches of the world of classical guitar— and giving up the instrument, and his dream, entirely.

Or so he thought. For, returning to the guitar, Kurtz weaves into the larger narrative the rich experience of a single practice session, demonstrating how practicing— the rigor, attention, and commitment it requires— becomes its own reward, an almost spiritual experience that redefines the meaning of “ success.” ”

Another book I’m interested in checking out is This is your Brain on Musicwhich explores how music affects the mind and how melodies play a role in our lives.

I never mastered the piano or flute sufficiently enough to consider a career in music, and certainly not the violin (“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or “Baa, Baa Black Sheep” anyone?). However, music I’ve either played or listened to has often been an inspiring influence in my life. And, I will always remember the thrill and satisfaction of performing in my old high school band, especially when we performed a song just the way our band instructor intended us to.

The way I see it, if music can inspire learning and even reading in students that don’t like to read, it’s perhaps the best educational tool of all.


2 Thoughts on “This Is Your Brain on Music…

  1. Michael on August 24, 2007 at 10:43 pm said:

    It is interesting how music is making a comeback, especially in schools. A lot of the kids who used to be non-athletic/non-academic types and into music often got the short end of the stick in schools. Now schools are embracing music of all kinds, and there are even new game shows that are built around filling in lyrics for popular songs (quite different from the old jeopardy/wheel of fortune we grew up with). Still, I suspect that even the kids who are into music these days don’t go quite as deep as they used to because there are so many more distractions for kids nowadays.

  2. Hi Michael.

    I think you are right about there being more distractions for kids than we had. One good thing though – – even some of the distractions are incorporating music now. My son’s friend brought over his older brother’s Guitar Hero II for X-Box 360 (without his knowledge) the other day complete with the guitar-like apparatus you plug and “play”. His brother wasnt’too impressed, so, now my son and his friend are saving up for Rock Band, which will allow them to play one of four instruments, and, let them play it online. It is also amusing how Karaoke – – once a pastime for older folk – – is catching on with kids. I guess all of us want to be rock stars some day :-)I tried Guitar Hero and it was really fun!

    and he and my son are already are embracing music

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