At the 36th annual Conference of Independent Schools Music Festival (CISMF) on April 15th, the 1200 voice student choir, string ensemble, and percussion joined in singing a stirring rendition of Thank You For the Music, that 1977 hit song by the Swedish pop group ABBA. I have attended this festival for several years and heard many finales. This year’s, I think, was my favourite.
Truth be told I am a big fan of ABBA and knew all the words to the song, so maybe that had something to do with it. Or maybe it was the three-year hiatus that made the whole event seem that much better. Whatever the case, I thoroughly enjoyed the arrangement at the end of this year’s concert and was very proud and happy to see a large contingent of our Matthews Hall students on stage at Roy Thomson Hall – home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and a premier national venue. How many elementary school children have the opportunity to learn and sing in a space like this with peers from across the province?
For thirty-five years, the best independent schools in Ontario have been profiling the commitment and talent of their music educators, students, and programs by sponsoring this one-of-a-kind event. It is a dramatic nod to the value and importance of the musical arts in our schools and in the lives of our students.
Not every child will be a virtuoso. In fact, most will not. But the value of a strong and accessible music program is the hallmark of any excellent school. I would also add that any school that does not value music education or offer it as a cornerstone of its program is deficient and, arguably, anti-intellectual.
Research shows that students’ critical thinking and creativity increase through exposure to music. Research also suggests that the mathematical abilities of children who participate in music lessons may be increased through the study of music. Yet, why are funds so often lacking in many Ontario schools?
The research of Nina Kraus and Travis White-Schwoch at Northwestern University in Illinois concludes that musicians’ brains more quickly and accurately encode certain ingredients of speech sounds than do those of non-musicians; that music training improves the brain’s ability to process speech sounds against a noisy background; and that this neural resilience makes sense because musicians have a superior ability to understand speech and have stronger memory and attentional skills than do non-musicians. Attributes that are strikingly consistent across a person’s lifespan when music has been studied and enjoyed.
Wow! If that is true, then all of the time and treasure we spend on our children’s musical education is a solid investment in their futures. Over my thirty-plus-year career, I can honestly say that the most successful academic students were also actively involved in some aspect of music education. It didn’t mean that each one had the lead in the school musical or won the gold medal at the local music festival. It didn’t mean that “being musical” increased their IQs.
But “being musical” did help train their brains to work harder, smarter, and better – and it impacted every aspect of their academic lives. My own childhood ear doctor, an esteemed Welsh physician, played the contrabass in our local symphony orchestra and that always motivated and inspired me!
Whenever I see our students and teachers sharing their musical insights and talents at events like our Spring Concert, I am confident that we are feeding the whole person for the future – body, mind, and soul.
“Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it? I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me.”
Ric Anderson, Head of School