I wish you could see the photograph I have before me. Peering into the camera is a slightly chubby third-grader with merry eyes. Snapped at Bennett Park Montessori, the little guy is holding a shiny dark cello, his fingers curled on the fingerboard outfitted with colorful dots to help him find the right notes.
Fast forward a few years to a second photograph displaying the same boy, in his mid-teens, composed and lean and handsome in his concert dress. The cello, still shiny, is now full-sized. One with the music, he is in complete command of his instrument and bow.
For that marvelous start on what looks to be a lifelong musical journey, I thank the Buffalo Public Schools and instrumental music teacher Pat Prokes. First for offering the invitation, and then for placing a cello in my son’s grade-school hands all those years ago.
I speak as a mom and enthusiastic supporter of children learning and making music everywhere, but especially for those right here in our own schools.
We need music in our lives and children need music in our schools. Children deserve to see, feel and hold string and band instruments, to have the opportunity to share in music-making singly and in groups, and to be in the audience of their peers making music. Their lives, and ours, are enriched when they experience the beauty, fun, depth, discipline and humor that music-making offers, and partake in the effort it requires.
Consider this. Once, my son’s wise and thoughtful pediatrician commented that having music can help a kid get through the uneven teenage years. Being exposed to something that might turn out to be a passion – something wondrous to love, develop and hone – can make all the difference. Poetry or dance does that for some, literature for others, still others find it in mechanics, building or computer wizardry. Participating in orchestra or band – music – does it for many.
Do kids in band or orchestra show up more on practice days? Perhaps. Does hearing notes float down the hall add a little joy to the school day? I think it must. Does mastering a small musical passage help in weathering bigger and more complicated life passages? I like to think so. Does playing for peers, parents and siblings in a musical school event, or being all eyes and ears in the audience, help lift us all a tiny bit, make us all feel a little more alive? My hope is that it does.
We need to keep music in our schools because music speaks. It whispers to kids who are broken, or are from families that are broken, as well as to kids who already have a great life. It speaks to fresh young ears through composers long dead, but whose beautiful compositions quietly await discovery by yet another generation. Music gets into the bones. Instruments beckon a child to touch and play and see just what they can make of the thing.
Our children are now growing into the people they will become, the sum of all of their experiences. The chance to make music, and the instruments to do it, should be part of those experiences. Can’t we find a way to keep the notes afloat in the school air?
As for the boy in the photo, into whose fortunate hands that school cello was slipped? He just completed his first year at a music conservatory, where cello is his thing!