A discussion of the importance of the arts in schools.


I had a dream.  Don’t get excited, I’m no Martin Luther King, Jr.  My dream was about the art in schools.  To be precise, I was back in high school surrounded by the friends I had then.  We sang a lot.  We were actually pretty good, and we had a good music teacher. I was in a quartet that won the Illinois Governor’s Trophy at the Illinois State Fair.  That’s actually why I started writing my own arrangements and compositions.

In my dream, we suddenly had a different music teacher.  She made the decision that music classes would no longer involve singing.  This was a disaster and what led me to think of my dream as more of a nightmare.

For a while, I thought I wanted to be a journalist, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that my only noticeable ability was in music.  I decided that teaching music would be my goal.  I also signed up for drama classes.  I know that music teachers end up directing musicals, so I thought that this might be helpful to me somewhere down the road.  My counselor called me into his office and explained that I couldn’t take both music and drama.  I would have to choose one or the other.  “We like our young men to take science and math courses,” he told me. Even at that young age I was already a bit obstinate, so I argued that I was pretty sure I knew what I was doing.

Oddly enough, I won that argument and was allowed to take the two courses that I had chosen by eliminating one of the math courses recommended for college preparatory students.  It turned out that I made the right decision.  In my first year of teaching, I learned that I would be directing a full scale Broadway musical.  The band teacher agreed to direct the orchestra, and I would do everything else.  Halfway through the rehearsal schedule, the band teacher became ill and I ended up directing the orchestra from behind the keyboard as well.

The small town of Truro, Iowa, in which I was teaching at the time, loved the final result of our efforts.  We played to a packed house and they talked about it for years to come.  Every year after that, I found myself directing another show.  What really became most important about the experience is what it did for my students.  They absolutely blossomed.  They were so proud and worked harder and harder at the music in which they were involved.

You may think I’ve lost my way in this saga, which would not be uncommon, but there’s a point to all of this.  Last week I visited the Kirksville Arts Association for a “Lunch and Learn” session.   After a tasty lunch, Kirby Carroll and his wife gave a demonstration regarding the building and playing of dulcimers.  Carroll is from Warrensburg and calls his business “Mountain Dulcimers.”  The Dulcimer is an American version of other ancient stringed instruments such as the lyre.  They are most popular in the Appalachian Mountain region of the country.

The presentation was engaging and most interesting.  Mr. Carroll is a true craftsman and his wife treated the gathering to several tunes.  This relaxing music  was most enjoyable.  This entire event took place in the Art Center where we were surrounded with various renderings of high school visual art examples.  The walls were covered with drawings, paintings, paper sculptures and so on.  The whole experience felt really good.

We’re in a difficult time financially, and our country is facing more and more cuts to programs, both national and local.  When it comes to schools, one of the first things to face the chopping block is the art courses.  We simply cannot let this happen.  We have wonderful local teachers who are inspiring outstanding results from their students.  It should be pretty easy to insure that art stays in our local schools, but we cannot allow arts to be sacrificed on a national level either.  You’ve already heard that our National Public Radio stations, which play classical music, are in danger of losing a good portion of the funding they receive.  Much of their resources come from their listeners, but they also get help from the government. 

It is important to support the arts.  I believe that education is the answer to many of our nation’s problems, but we cannot strip down curricula to the point that arts are omitted. I know that music makes people feel good.  I consider it perhaps the best preventative medicine there is. Happy people are generally healthy people.

Visual arts like painting, sculpting and so on can be just as important.  Theatre, too, is a great way for young people to experience the arts.  Even creative writing, while a pretty normal part of curricula, is an important portal to pass through so that students can infuse art into their lives.

As a former teacher, I think of cutting funding for education as a nightmare.  The promotion and support of art in schools is a dream that needs to be kept alive.