From The Director's Desk
Editorial Views and Opinions

Music for the Masses
A Losing Cause?


It is no great secret that school music programs across this entire country have in recent years suffered serious setbacks ranging from substantial fiscal and schedule cutbacks to outright elimination. While national, regional, and local financial strictures have in many cases made such retrenchments virtually unavoidable, the fact remains that music programs are frequently among the most likely to be cut back in times of financial duress because they are perceived, rightfully or wrongfully, by politicians and administrators as extracurricular frills or peripheral activities, rather than as a central and integral part of each student's educational and life experience.

A substantial portion of the blame for the current deplorable state of affairs, unfortunately, must be shouldered by professional and amateur musicians and music educators themselves. As Walt Kelly's cartoon character Pogo used to say, "we have seen the enemy and they is us." Professional musicians have for many decades practiced their art and craft like high priests in some arcane cult, presenting their performances to the general public on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, and have made little or no effort to render the fruits of their labors comprehensible or relevant to the average person on the street.

A related phenomenon can sometimes be observed among those for whom music is avocational rather than vocational. Amateur musicians (including, I am sorry to say, some early music enthusiasts) get together in their little affinity groups and congratulate themselves and each other for being so artsy-fartsy and elitist, ignoring the benefits that might accrue to both themselves and society at large by making what they do available and of interest to the vast number of uninitiated and potential players and listeners. Interestingly enough, early music performance during the past decade has become to a large degree professionalized and absorbed into the mainstream of musical life, taking the wind out of the sails of those who enjoyed tweaking the collective noses of the musical establishment and promoted it as a subversive countercultural activity. In more than one respect, early music has in recent years become at least to some degree a victim of its own success.

Then too, many music educators have for generations promoted music as fun (join the band and go on neat trips, collect newspapers, run a car wash), music as social therapy ("Gotta have a boys band right here in River City" -- a kid in a band won't be out shooting pool or, these days, selling recreational pharmaceuticals), or music (by mostly white, mostly male, mostly European, and mostly dead composers) as ritual entertainment. Music may well be all of these things and much, much more; but when financial push comes to fiscal shove, none of these tangential benefits of participation in school music programs provides sufficient grounds for maintaining a vital and integral place for music in the curriculum.

Perhaps the most telling indictment of these traditional approaches to musical education lies in the fact that the great majority of kids who take part, sometimes extensively, in school music programs put their clarinet or trumpet in its case after graduation and never again actively participate in musical performance or even listen to performances of anything other than the banal commercial drivel that pollutes our airwaves and record shops. Whatever else they may have absorbed by osmosis during their brief encounter with music, it was apparently not enough to generate or sustain a life-long relationship with music as art and experience.

Of late, thinking musicians and professional music educators (no, Virginia, these terms are not necessarily oxymorons) have been greatly concerned, for reasons both philosophical as well as pragmatic, with the shrinking market for their skills. Whether this is a classic case of too little too late remains to be seen, but it has become in recent years not only desirable but absolutely essential that all of us who are closely involved with the music world become persuasive advocates for our art, making not just early music in particular and classical music in general but the entire spectrum of western and non-western musical experience accessible and meaningful to a far wider audience.

It is clear that the measures which have been used in the past have not been particularly effective in achieving that goal, and that concerned musicians and teachers are going to have to cast their nets much wider. The current trend toward multicultural musical experiences in school music programs, for example, has been one of the more significant developments during the past few years. The remarkable growth of the Orff-Schulwerk program and philosophy during the past twenty-five years is another indication that at least some music educators are willing and interested in involving their students (and themselves) in music at a much more profound and creative level. Those readers who would like to obtain further information about this excellent approach to music education founded by the late German composer Carl Orff may write the American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Executive Headquarters, P. O. Box 391089, Cleveland, OH 44139-8089.

Last November I had a most encouraging meeting at the AOSA Convention in Philadelphia with Gail Littleton and Gene Murrow, the new executive director and president, respectively, of The American Recorder Society. ASW was there as an exhibitor, as we have been for the past decade; the ARS people were there as interested observers. During our meeting, we discussed what fresh and different steps might be undertaken by the society to attract more new members to the joy of early music performance in general and recorder playing in particular. I was greatly encouraged by the vision and enthusiasm of these two individuals, who are apparently about to bring some badly needed new blood and ideas to this venerable but moribund organization.

In the interest of furthering public awareness and discussion of the many issues relating to the increased promulgation of music within the American cultural milieu, both within the school music experience and thereafter,. I would like to present two brief, very different articles that have recently crossed my desk. The first is from a new scholarly publication, MuSICA (Music and Science Information Computer Archive) Research Notes, which interestingly enough is funded by NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants), an umbrella and service organization of musical instrument manufacturers, publishers, distributors, and retailers of which Antique Sound Workshop is proud to be a member. The editor of this digest of scholarly activity is Dr. Norman M. Weinberger of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California at Irvine.

NAMM has in recent years become extreme active in fostering and promoting public awareness of the role that music can play in enriching the lives of individuals at all age and educational levels. Just recently, some very interesting front-line psychological and behavioral research has proven quite conclusively something that many educators have suspected for some time: musical study during childhood imparts some highly beneficial if not essential developmental and social skills that have a salutary effect far beyond the realm of music itself. It would seem that Meredith Wilson's Prof. Hill, in his own self-interested way, may have been right after all.

These recent scholarly findings provide those of us with a vested interest in promoting music as an integral part of the educational experience with some valuable ammunition to use in the up-to-now losing battle with politicians (are you listening, Newt?), administrators, bureaucrats, and other disgruntled parties who would just as soon eliminate presumed frills such as music from the educational curriculum in the name of fiscal responsibility. Given the recent upheaval in the national, state, and local political scenes, it has become abundantly clear to even the most disinterested parties that the fine arts, music in particular, are going to be in for a rough ride in the months and years ahead. No longer can we assume that business as usual will be sufficient to sustain our present level of activity, let alone permit future growth and expansion. We are clearly going to have to become more politicized, however distasteful that may be to those of us who are by nature apolitical, and fight for our cause as well and better than those who would just as soon cut and slash most if not all of public spending for the fine arts.

Music and Cognitive Achievement in Children

Music is widely believed to have many benefits for children beyond those within the realm of music itself. These benefits are thought to contribute importantly to development by improving intellectual, motor, and social abilities and skills. This article reviews part of this topic, specifically the relationship between music education and cognitive achievement.

A scan of the research literature suggests the variable pursuit of this problem over the years, rather than a systematically enlarging body of research. With this in mind, let us consider studies that pertain to the single reason for music education that has exhibited continual and substantial increased emphasis in the modern period, i.e., the view that music promotes cognitive development and abstract thought. Within this realm, we include topics such as reading, the mental rotation of representations of objects, and creative thinking. These tap into three of the many aspects of intelligence.

We begin with an older study on music and reading, published by Hurwitz, Wolff, Bortnick, and Kokas in 1975. (Hurwitz, I., Wolff, P. H., Bortnick, B. D., & Kokas, K. (1975). Nonmusical effects of the Kodaly music curriculum in primary grade children. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 8, 45-51.) The authors asked whether music training improved reading performance in first grade children. The experimental group received Kodaly training, which uses folk songs and emphasizes melodic and rhythmic elements. The control group consisted of children who were matched in age, IQ, and socioeconomic status at the beginning of the study and who received no special treatment. The music instruction was extensive, five days a week for 40 minutes per day, for seven months. Students were tested on reading ability at the start of the school year and then tested again at the end of the year. After training the music group exhibited significantly higher reading scores than did the control group, scoring in the 88th percentile vs. the 72nd percentile. Incidentally, the benefits for the music group were not due to better teaching of reading because students who had the same teacher before, during and after music training showed greatly improved reading performance. Moreover, continued music training was beneficial; after an additional year of Kodaly training, the experimental group was still superior to the control group. These findings clearly support the view that music education facilitates the ability to read.

Although these results are impressive, both in terms of the use of control subjects and because the findings can be interpreted as a cause-effect relationship between music and reading, two questions immediately come to mind. First, was the enhancement of reading ability caused by music itself or simply by having a more varied school program, which happened to consist of music education. After all, the control group was left alone; had they been given some other special non-musical experiences, would they have improved as much as the music group? Second, how could music training possibly improve reading; the music group did not learn to read music but rather to listen, and recognize musical ideas, etc. We will consider both of these questions; an answer to the second will prove relevant to the first.

To understand how music education might benefit reading, we need a brief review of how children usually learn to read after they can understand a language. According to Frith, (Frith, U. (1985). Beneath the surface of developmental dyslexia, in: K. E. Patterson, J. C. Marshall, & M. Coltheart (eds.) Surface Dyslexia, Hove, Lawrence Erlbaum Associate Ltd., pp. 301-330.) there are three stages: (1) visually recognizing words, (2) learning the correspondences between visual parts of words ("graphemes") and their spoken sounds ("phonemes"), and then (3) achieving visual recognition of words without going through the earlier stages. It is the critical second or "phonemic" stage that is of interest here. We are all familiar with children "sounding-out" syllables and words while they are learning to read (stage 2) which they discard when they reach stage 3. It seems that music facilitates reading by improving the second, phonemic stage.

The evidence comes from a recent study by Lamb and Gregory (Lamb, S. J., & Gregory, A. H. (1993). The relationship between music and reading in beginning readers. Educational Psychology, 13, 19-26.) who determined the relationship between musical sound discrimination and reading ability in first grade children. In addition to some standard reading tests, children were tested on their ability to "sound-out" nonsense syllables they viewed on cards (phonic reading) and pitch awareness, in which they heard pairs of musical notes or chords in sequence and reported whether they sounded the same or different. Also, the children were tested with notes that had the same or different timbres. Finally, their phonemic awareness was assessed by listening to spoken words and telling whether the words began or ended with the same sound. The experimenters then determined the relationships between performance scores on the various tests. They found a high degree of correlations between how well children could read, both standard and phonic material, and how well they could discriminate pitch. Timbre awareness was not related to reading, showing the specificity of the findings.

What does all of this mean? The findings support the conclusion that good pitch discrimination benefits learning to read by enhancing the second, phonemic stage of learning. Pitch change of verbal word components (formants) is thought to be the most important factor in conveying word information. (Lieberman, A. M., Cooper, F. S., Shankweiler, D. P., & Studdert-Kennedy, M. (1967). Perception of the speech code. Psychological Review, 37, 31-37.) The relationship to music education is straightforward, because such training invariably involves improvement in pitch discrimination. Therefore, the findings of Hurwitz et al. that music training facilitates learning to read can be understood as being mediated by enhanced pitch discrimination. That timbre awareness is unrelated to reading suggest that the benefits to reading are not due to the increased richness of the educational experience but rather to some highly specific aspect of music education, i.e., pitch training. One might point out that the Lamb and Gregory study is correlational not causal, because no music training was involved, only measures of various abilities. That is quite true. Any casual conclusions have to be based on other previous causal findings, such as the fact that learning to read requires the second phonemic stage. It seems unlikely that high scores on pitch discrimination were caused by good reading abilities, since the latter depend upon more basic processes such as the former. Further studies are needed. But the findings provide evidence that music education facilitates reading and a mechanism by which music exerts its beneficial effect.

We next consider the effect of training with music on learning and creativity. Mohanty and Hejmadi (Mohanty, B. & Hejmadi, A. (1992). Effects of intervention training on some cognitive abilities of preschool children. Psychological Studies, 37, 31-37.) investigated the effects of various types of training of four and five year olds on learning the names of their body parts and on creativity as assessed by the Torrence Test of Creative Thinking, involving picture construction and picture completion. There were four matched groups: non-training control, verbal instruction in the names and uses of body parts, verbal instructions plus acting out movements, and the music/dance group in which instructions were given by song and acting out movements was done in the form of a dance. After twenty days of training, all experimental groups exhibited higher test scores than the control group. The music/dance group showed the greatest improvement in learning about body parts and creativity. Thus, improvement in cognitive abilities can result from a variety of training experiences but music is the most effective of these treatments. The means by which music, and the other training, produces improvement in the cognitive abilities studied remains to be determined.

Lastly, we turn to recent research on musical training and the abstract cognitive ability to mentally rotate objects, a means of assessing spatial abilities. Rauscher, Shaw, Levine, Ky, and Wright (Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G. L., Levine, L. J., Ky, K. N., & Wright, E. L. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society, Los Angeles, CA, August 13, 1994.) studies preschool children who received daily group singing lessons and weekly keyboard instruction. A matched control group received no special experiences. All children were tested using subtests of a standard intelligence test, one of which was a spatial task. After four months, the music group was superior to the control group on the test of spatial abilities but not on other tests of intelligence. Improvement was even greater eight months after the start of music training. The authors believe that this high degree of specificity in the improvement only of spatial abilities indicates that improvement was not due simply to the extra attention and enriched experiences of the experimental group, but rather specifically due to the fact that the experiences were musical in nature.

In summary, we have reviewed several studies that support the conclusion that musical training facilitates cognitive skills, including reading, abstract spatial abilities, and creativity. In each case, there is an extramusical positive effect. Thus, it appears that music studied for good and sufficient reasons for its own sake has beneficial "side effects" on cognition. An examination of the extent to which music may or may not have such side effects on the other extramusical aspects of child development and behavior is a topic that will have to be left for succeeding issues. Readers who would like to receive copies of MuSICA without charge may contact the Public Information Department at National Association of Music Merchants, 5140 Avenida Encinas, Carlsbad, CA 92008-4391, or telephone (800) 767-6266.

A second and seemingly even more novel approach to ensuring the continuation of a public audience for serious music appears to be the impetus for a new monthly slick-paper music magazine Tutti, which has only recently come into circulation. This not-so-august publication, which purports to demystify classical music by presenting tabloid-style information about the personal lives of great composers... la People magazine, revealing that they were in fact real people with normal everyday foibles and concerns, was first brought to my attention by a column in the Hartford Courant written by Steve Metcalf, a columnist for that daily newspaper in our sister state of Connecticut. Mr. Metcalf has graciously consented to permit us to reprint his seemingly even-handed review of this new publication. Those Chrestologia readers who find the task of reading scholarly research on behavioral and educational development to be excruciatingly dull will perhaps find Tutti much more to their liking.
Will millions of regular folks be speedily converted to classical music once they learn that Brahms was inclined to ".. make it with prostitutes?"

Or when they come to understand more fully the details of Schubert's battle with venereal disease?

A new monthly publication called Tutti is wagering that strenuous demythologizing of classical music -- with special attention to the social and sexual lives of composers -- is going to lure waves of musically unlettered boomers into the classical fold.

Tutti (Italian for "everybody" and pronounced TOOT-tee) is just now starting to show up in bookstores around the country. Each issue of the magazine, which announces itself on the cover as delivering "classical music for the rest of us," comes with a full-length compact disc. The magazine/disc combo retails for $16.95 in stores; it's also available via direct-mail subscription at $14.95 per issue.

Issue No. 1 (each will be numbered but not issued with a month or date) features Mozart. Among the elements: excerpts from the composer's famously scatological letters, some fairly lurid speculations on the circumstances of Mozart's death, and anecdotes about his unorthodox social behavior that makes "... Howard Stern and Sinead O'Connor look like saints." There are also chirpy sidebars that illuminate such Mozartiana as the fact that at the billiard table the composer could "pretty much kick major Viennese butt."

Who is this aimed at?

"I would say it's aimed at people between 30 and 50, primarily but not exclusively women," says Roxanne St. Claire, director of marketing for Florida-based Tutti USA, Inc. "These people make more than $35,000 a year, but no more than $100,000. They have children, they probably like stuff like Kenny G. and Phil Collins and maybe a little jazz on Sunday morning. They have probably never been to a symphony concert, or if they have it's been only once or twice."

St. Claire's confident demographics are based on extensive focus groups and other test-marketing efforts. They are also based on the fact that Tutti has something of a real-world track record: it has been published in Holland (in Dutch) for a year and a half. It claims 25,000 Dutch subscribers, a number the company says is ahead of original projections, although the publication is "not yet profitable."

The quest to convert yuppies and other musical innocents to classical music has become a mantra of the classical business generally. Orchestras, record companies, talent management companies -- everybody who has a stake in the art form is convinced that the future belongs to the musically restless boomers.

There is reason to look expectantly, not to say desperately, at this potential audience. The present classical audience is aging, and it is also not growing: Despite the overall success of the CD, classical music's share of the recorded music business has held fairly steady over the past couple of decades at around 5 percent. The Tutti braintrust claims that only 2 percent of the American public can be called committed classical-music fans.

"The audience we have in mind has gotten tired of soft rock, but they don't know what the next step is", says Maurice Keizer, the company's founder and publisher. "I think this is partially what the huge wave of interest in country music is all about -- people simply trying to discover another music. We're saying to these people, `Look, isn't it time you listened to some of this music that we call classical, not because you ought to know it or anything like that, but because you might be missing something you would really like."

Keizer expects Tutti's circulation in the United States to reach 100,000 in the next 12 to 18 months. The company hopes eventually to be installed in most of the major bookstore chains as well as many independents.

As a magazine, Tutti contrasts sharply with the sober and often willfully obscure classical-music periodicals that tend to be read by the faithful. The venerable classical monthly Gramophone is surely the most august and densely written of these; others, slightly less professorial in tone, include BBC Music and Classic CD. All three are British. In this country, American Record Guide and Fanfare magazine treat classical recordings and issues in a voice that clearly makes no effort to cultivate, or even acknowledge, the uninitiated.

But Tutti is more or less in step with the gentle, carefully nondidactic efforts of classical institutions to seduce a new generation of listeners. For instance, the magazine is partaking heavily of the notion that classical music can be, above all, a soothing balm for the overstressed. Indeed, the word soothing turns up frequently in the magazine and its accompanying promotional literature. It even is used, possibly for the first time, to describe the music of Leonard Bernstein, who will be featured in issue no. 2.

"It's not that we're going to limit ourselves to soothing music," says St. Claire. "But I can say this -- one of the overwhelming responses we got in our research was to the idea of music as serene and calming and, yes, soothing. A lot of people said that's what they think classical music is supposed to be.",/I>

Copyright, Antique Sound Workshop, Ltd., 1995. All rights reserved.


Back to Top of Page

Return to Antique Sound Workshop home page