Music has no practical or immediate measurable value to inner city elementary grade kids. It won’t feed hungry stomachs and it won’t get Mom or Dad out of jail.
But I’ve realized that learning about Mozart is as crucial as math. Remembering the names of operas is as vital and formidable an accomplishment as learning verb conjugation.
You may feel confident that words such as quartet, Vienna and child prodigy were exceedingly difficult to master. When kids hear the word “Requiem” ten or twenty or thirty years from now, it may or may not sound familiar.
Ultimately, retention is not the issue. We must consistently and often remind our kids that there are pursuits out there than don’t translate to practicality or usefulness.
As I watched students learn that Mozart played violin and organ at age four, I saw respect and admiration in their eyes. When I asked them to name a reed instrument, one student was pleased to offer clarinet. Others were fascinated to know that saxophones also qualified.
Most likely, they won’t remember what instruments constitute a string quartet. Likewise, they probably won’t recollect that Mozart wrote string quartet pieces for Haydn. But they know where to find that information when it becomes important and they want it.
If we teach beat, tempo, dynamics and music composition to enough students, one may become a musician. One may seek further documentation. And one may go home and say, “Guess what, Mom! I found out a bunch of stuff about Mozart today.”
Any of those consequences are causes for declaring victory. But if none of those happen and we let kids know that music is worth the time to understand it, we have enriched them. We have widened their powers of observation and liberated them from fixation on matters of survival.
Yes, the pronunciation of words like Figaro and Austria could have been amusing. Thankfully, I also had the opportunity to share Bach, Brahms and Beethoven with them. Please don’t deprive our children of the gifts of fine art. Whatever it takes, we must find the budget to create lovers of symphony. Shalom.