The Maestro and the Mayor – Music for all schools

Hope for the Impossible to Achieve the Extraordinary

Those were the words Cleveland Orchestra director Franz Welser-Most used at the City Club to describe his vision of Cleveland as the “Music City of America.”  One week later in the same venue, Mayor Jackson said he wanted the Cleveland Schools to be on par with the Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland Orchestra.  Few cities have the remarkable concentration of music resources than Cleveland. The Mayor and the Maestro recognize this as Cleveland’s niche above other cities.  “Cleveland cannot compete with the masses of India, China and Japan…where you can compete is you have to find niches and you have to be the best in that niche.”  The challenge for the school board and superintendent is to harness that niche and bring it to scale so all children can “Make Music!” Done properly, Cleveland schools could be extraordinary and unlike any district in the country.

One promising example is a foundation supported pilot between the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the New York-based Education Through Music.  ETM has a simple mission: “forming long-term partnerships with inner-city schools to help principals establish and sustain school-wide music education programs that reach every student.”   Our trustees support this goal because we can no longer understand how any school cannot include music as a core curricular discipline.  Our challenge to the Cleveland leadership is to create a school system where every school has a trained music education professional on staff and that music is valued for the fundamental contribution it makes to student learning.

Ray Kurzweil’s book How to Create a Mind – The Secret of Human Thought Revealed explains that the human brain has developed a unique capacity to recognize patterns and recall sequences of patterns, “…however, we are not born with a neocortex filled with any of these patterns. Our neocortex is virgin territory when our brain is created.  It has the capacity of learning and therefore of creating connections between the pattern recognizers, but it gains those connections from experience.  This learning process begins even before we are born, occurring simultaneously within the biological process of actually growing a brain.” By the third trimester “…the fetus is having experiences, and the neocortex is learning.  She can hear sounds, especially her mother’s heartbeat, which is one likely reason that the rhythmic qualities of music are universal to human culture.   Every human civilization ever discovered has had music as part of its culture which is not the case with other art forms, such as pictorial art. “

Nationally, schools have embraced STEM and virtually all the K-12 STEM curriculum have as their core the ability for students to “recognize and analyze patterns and trends, and to sequence events.” In large measure, those same schools have eliminated music as a core curriculum and effectively, “outsourced” music training to institutions like the Orchestra and the Rock Hall, as well as many excellent nonprofits that succeed often by finding the one teacher in the one building who will invite their programming into the schools. Philanthropy has enabled this travesty by supporting the programs –which though excellent, are considered by the schools an “add-on.”  With a human phenomenon so fundamental to human brain activity why on earth would schools not include music as a core curricular standard thereby ensuring access and exposure for every child? 

The Mayor and the Maestro have set the bar high.  Perhaps now is the time to reach for what may be considered impossible and to leverage the excellence in human capital coupled with unparalleled technology used at many of our music institutions and bring to scale the efforts that ETM and Oberlin have piloted to ensure that each school will have paid full-time staff to teach music to every child.  In that kind of district, visits to the Orchestra, the Rock Hall or any other musical event will magnify a child’s experience of life.  Aristotle said of teachers, “Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”

Living in a city where that happens would indeed be Extraordinary.